Saturday, March 30, 2013


Most bloggers don't talk about their stats, because we've all got this "is yours bigger than mine?" complex. But I'm going to open up the books today because I'm making some blogging decisions over here, and I'm thinking about just what blogging means to me.

For a Foreign Service blogger, I get a decent amount of page views. I mean, I'm no Diplopundit. I'm no LAJ. Jill and ADA get more hits than me. But I've been around for awhile, so lots of FS types know and read my blog. I get, on average, around 600-900 views a day. I don't spend a lot of time tracking where those views come from, but I can tell you that the majority of them are either government types, considering-the-FS types, or my mom's friends.

A lot of my hits currently come from right here in Jordan. Several hundred people in Jordan are reading this blog. I would bet that many of those readers are from right here within the Embassy community.

And it's odd, you know, to be walking around the Embassy, where I consider myself to be a keeps-to-herself type of person, knowing that there are people whose names I don't even know who are eavesdropping on my boring little life because I've given them this window. It's strange to me that people I barely know sometimes stop me in the hallway to comment on the things I've written. In fact, it made me so uncomfortable not long ago that I decided to stop writing for awhile.

That was four posts back. I decided to stop. Retreat from the world for a bit, if you will. But my mom called to complain. And my father-in-law said he missed my updates. And any number of friends from around the globe emailed me the obligatory "come back!" messages. And then, the truth: I do miss writing when I'm not doing it. It's fun, sometimes, to put words to my day, to drop future me little reminders of the things I'm doing now. It's important, actually, for my mental health, to think about things and make sense of them in words.

I've published over 700 posts here. A few of them have upset people, for one reason or another. When someone takes the time to contact me and explain why a specific post bothers her, I look at it again, carefully, and if I can see her point, I take it down or I edit it.

Other posts have really touched people, for one reason or another. When I write about some aspect of FS life that is hard, or lonely, or just plain awful, I always get emails from people who thank me for putting into words something they've been feeling. I cherish those emails, truly I do. Because, as anyone who writes will tell you, we want to feel like what we write matters. And so when I get those emails, I know what I wrote that day mattered to someone. It helped someone over a rough patch, or it helped someone make a difficult decision, or it just helped someone feel not so alone out there in the wide world.

That's why I keep blogging. If this were really just a personal diary of my adventures, I'd password protect the hell out of this thing and keep it to myself. But I love the community of friends I've made because of these words here. Do you know I've never even met half of my Facebook friends in real life? I met them through blogging. I know their stories and they know mine and I love the fact that these faceless friends of mine are out there, in Malawi and Armenia and Egypt and Estonia, rooting for me and praying for me and keeping me afloat on the hard days. Even though I couldn't pick them out of a crowd in the grocery store, and I'd walk right by them in the airport, they are still all important to me. I love that. I. Love. That. And so I blog. I love the fact that old friends from prior posts are keeping up with me through my blog, occasionally writing to let me know they're reading. And so I blog. I love that I've become friends with people I admired while serving with them - people like Afghan Plan, who intimidated the hell out of me in person with his brains and wit, but then became a real friend because of our mutual addiction to blogging. And so I blog.

But what to do with the person at post who apparently didn't like something I wrote and decided to print up a copy of my story and turn it in anonymously? Seriously. Why would you do that? If you don't like what I'm writing, come talk to me. Send me an email. Or - and here's a crazy idea - just don't read it anymore. You always have that choice. But turning me in, complaining about it, when I can swear up and down that I've written nothing about you? I'm sorry, but that was wrong.

I hope that whoever it was turned me in out of some misguided sense of concern somehow, and not just to be nasty. I'm choosing to believe that anyway. I know my recent post affected some people, here and at other posts, because I got calls and emails from around the world, from people who wanted to tell me their stories or give me advice. I also know, by the way, that the girl about whom I wrote (not an embassy girl, by the way, though I don't see how that's any of your business) is getting help.

I am seriously considering starting over with a new password-protected blog, or adding a second blog for a small audience. I don't like protected blogs, myself, and I almost never read such blogs. But what else can I do? I can count on my fingers the number of people here in Amman whom I want to keep as readers of this blog. But these are the people who've been in my living room, who've sat next to me on my couch and looked me in the eye, who've held my hand and talked me through my troubles. These people know my stories, the ones I never blog about. These people are my stories. Them, I want to keep in my life, however I can. But the person who reads, and frowns, and then prints and turns me in? I don't want you here. I hope you felt you were doing the right thing. I sincerely hope that. But please: in the future, maybe try talking to me first? I keep to myself, this is true. But if you want, or need, to talk about anything you read here, do me a favor and let me know.

Meanwhile, if I decide to start a second password-protected blog, I'll be in contact with some of you to let you know where you can find me.

Friday, March 29, 2013

POTUS Part Two

Okay, I'm finally back with POTUS Part Two.

This has been a hard week, because we've all been trying to catch up on the work we neglected last week. In my case, this means two huge projects needed care and feeding (as did four kids), and I've been feeling just a teensy bit overwhelmed.

It's been a terrific week on so many unbloggable levels. Really the best one in a long time. But yeah, I'm tired. Still: I promised the dad-in-law more POTUS pix, so here I am.

So okay. Day two dawned cloudy and windy, but not dusty. There was still no call on whether the helicopters would be grounded or not. Petra? Or no Petra? I headed to the airport early in the morning, because no one knew what was going to happen, so it was all-hands-on-deck, just in case.

There's the plane, all alone on the tarmac except for a few zillion people.

Meanwhile, there was an Embassy Meet n Greet scheduled elsewhere in the city, for employees and family members. The kids really wanted to go, but I had to work. Fortunately for me, my dear friends STJ and CL offered to bring my boys to the event while I went off to the airport, loaded down with coffee. Aidan took some (slightly blurry) photos of the meet n greet. He asked me to include them:

Back to the airport. I have no idea why the spacing is suddenly getting all screwy, and I'm too lazy to pretend I know enough html to fix it. So deal.

Anyway, here you can see that the helicopter pilots got the all-clear for the trip to Petra, and they are moving into position.

Look! Here comes the motorcade! That's our awesome tent behind the limo.

My job was to stand next to this helicopter guy in case any of the passengers needed help figuring out that this was helicopter #3. Of course, the engines were running when the passengers arrived, and it was loud, so no one could hear me. Also, helicopter guy was holding a big sign labeled "#3." So I guess you could say my job was a bit redundant. Even the helicopter guy had no idea why I was standing right next to him, and it was too loud to tell him that I was his back-up sign person in case one of the passengers couldn't read. He thought I was a passenger. So after everyone boarded, he motioned for me to climb in as well. I was sorely tempted. I briefly weighed in my mind the chances of getting caught and fired, or tossed out of the helicopter halfway to Petra. Reluctantly, I shook my head no and headed back to my fancy tent.

Once everyone was loaded on to the helicopters, they all took off for Petra.

Our work wasn't done, though. We still had to wait for them to finish touring Petra and come back to the airport later that day. I had to drive someone back to town, so I stopped at the grocery store, threw some stuff in my cart and dropped it back at the house before heading back to my tent. What can I say: I'm a multi-tasker.

As the time for the President's return drew closer, we all got busy again.  I had to welcome the press back to the airport and get them back up on their stage. The Presidential limo pulled up right next to us and parked where we stood. So of course we all turned tourist again and snapped some photos.

This guy  - I'll call him "The King of Queen Alia Airport" - was too busy working to take any photos. And his wife, a friend of mine, is out of town. I knew she would kill him if he didn't have any pictures to prove that he was there. So I kept following him around and surreptitiously snapping his photo. (Sssshh - don't tell him you saw him here.)

Well of course I needed a photo of my own. I was kind of embarrassed to be acting all Air Force One starstrucky, but then I noticed that the guy next to me was doing the same thing. And he's a big name television reporter in the States. And he was actually going to be flying home with the President on Air Force One. He told me he was sending the picture to his wife so she would know he was on his way home. Perhaps. But I think he was kind of starstruck too. (Even the White House press lady who was working with me - or rather, telling me what to do - said she still loves to see Air Force One out there on the tarmac. So apparently I wasn't alone.)

Everything was ready to go. Everyone was calm. No worries at all. And then someone took a call - it seems the King of Jordan himself was on his way to the airport to see the President off. Well, nothing like a last minute visit from the King to send everyone scrambling.

The President's helicopter came in for a landing.

As did the rest of the fleet...

Then the King walked out to meet the helicopter. You can see the Secretary of State in the middle of that photo - the King is on his other side.

If you know what you're looking for, you can see the King, in blue jeans, walking with the President. I know my dad is going to blow this picture up for a closer look, so I'm including it here. But really, the fancy-camera photographers next to me got all the awesome shots. I can't post their pictures on my blog, obviously, but don't worry dad! I'll email you some later.

The wave...

And the plane departs...

And that's it! I went home and made dinner. Or took a nap and ordered take-out. Can't remember which.

End of story. But here's something extra for you: a picture of me from a POTUS meet n greet in Beijing, back in 2009. I'd lost the picture somehow, but my friend JennD, who was the official photographer at that particular event, emailed it to me yesterday. (Thanks Jenn! Hey, could you go ahead and add that arrow pointing to his back and noting who he is? Might be helpful...)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

POTUS in Jordan

I'll probably split this into several posts, because I have a ton of pictures and a slow internet connection. But in the interest of giving my father-in-law something to read over breakfast, I figure I should get something up on the blog quick.

So. Maybe you heard that POTUS came to town? When POTUS decides to make a move, it's a pretty big deal for the entire Embassy. There are meetings to plan and schedules to make and reporters to coddle and tons and tons and tons of White House staff and secret service people and cars and helicopters and computers and stuff you never would have thought of moving back and forth across the country. 

My office was pretty heavily involved in the visit because there were over 100 reporters showing up from the U.S. alone to cover the event. And the President was planning to move from the airport to the palace to the hotel to the airport to Petra and back and every single time he moves all of those reporters go with him in a gigantic circus caravan of craziness that is orchestrated by press people who hang on to their wits by a mere thread and wow is it ever exhausting keeping up with all of them. So every single person in my office got tasked to cover a specific site.

And that is how I ended up being named as the "Queen Alia Airport Press Control Officer," which is a very fancy way of saying that I spent the entire weekend at the airport trying to look as press-y as possible.

Our Jordanian counterparts offered to set up a tent at the Royal Pavilion, which is where all of the airport action took place. They figured we'd need a place to get out of the sun, I guess. So I pictured, you know, a tent. Maybe nylon, or canvas, with some folding chairs and a cooler for sodas? Maybe a zip-out window like those fancy camping tents have?

Apparently, though, Jordanians take their tents seriously. Because this is what we got:

One of the secret service guys commented that it was nicer than the place where he held his wedding reception. They had waiters setting up a buffet, so I promptly stashed my granola bars and tootsie rolls deep in my purse and decided that I had the best press site in town. It was BYOStarbucks, but I had that covered on my own, as the picture above clearly shows. (Aside: one of the lead secret service guys offered me 20JD for my coffee. I think he was probably kidding. But seeing as he was armed, I decided to bring him his own coffee the next day. He offered to "smooch" me. That's right: I may be old, but I still got it! Coffee, that is.)

The day started out beautifully. We had to get there at a gawd-awful early hour to meet the press plane and get all 100+ reporters safely aboard buses and off to their hotel. Not a problem, except the crown prince's plane landed at the same time as the press plane (I guess there's a reason it's called the Royal Pavilion?), so our reporters were trapped on the tarmac while we waited for the prince's security detail to whisk him away.

Eventually, however, our plane doors opened and my first task of the day began. I stood at the base of the stairs and repeated, over and over, "Welcome to Jordan! Please take any of the last three buses, folks. Any of the last three buses..." while gesturing broadly toward aforementioned buses. I'm telling you what: that right there is why I decided to get a Master's degree. It was grueling. But never once did I slip up and forget my lines. I'm smart like that.

Once we got them all out of the airport, we went back to the tent to wait. And wait. And wait. I sat there and read my book and drank my Starbucks and chatted up about a million guys with guns strapped all over their bodies. As we sat, the wind started to pick up, prompting many a joke about just how well the tent was bolted into the tarmac. It felt like it was going to up and blow away. After awhile I decided to head into the main building to get out of the wind, and when I looked out of the tent flaps, this is what I saw:

It was like a good day in China.

So all of that dust pushed the arrival time back, which meant we were going to wait some more. The helicopter pilots started fretting about the weather, which was apparently bad enough to ground them, should they be needed, and contingency plans were drawn up in case the next day's trip to Petra had to be cancelled. None of that concerned my press work, however, so I continued to sit. And wait. And wait some more.

Eventually it was time to meet the press - a busload of local reporters arrived, and my job was to get them through security, badge them up and wrangle them into the tent without losing any of them. This my colleague and I managed without a hitch, until one of the cameramen needed to use the restroom. It turned out we ourselves were never properly badged, and so the new secret service guy standing in front of the tent wouldn't let us out.

"Help," I emailed my White House press counterpart, "I seem to be under tent arrest."

She showed up eventually with badges that made us official and we were released from our tent-prison, just in time to get our photographers up on their podium. We had to explain to them that they couldn't move off of the podium once up there, or they would likely be tackled by secret service agents. And then we had to stand next to them and keep reminding them that, seriously, don't move, because that one guy alone has like 16 guns strapped to his leg, never mind the rest of his body.

See them down there, surrounded by scary armed people? That's the red carpet to nowhere, off to the right, waiting for Air Force One to pull up.

Meanwhile, as we were getting our press guys set up, the motorcade was moving into position. I haven't seen that many fancy cars all in a neat row since Shay was a 3-year-old with OCD and a Matchbox car obsession. One of the DS guys explained to me the significance of each car in the row and all I can say is, these people are prepared for any contingency at all. Seriously. If the President decides to pull off to the side of the road for a cappuccino, he'll probably find a coffee cart 10 cars back.

There's his car right there. Keep in mind that I don't have much of a zoom on my camera.

Finally, the moment we'd all been waiting (and waiting!) for: wheels down! And everyone turns tourist at that point - except for the secret service, of course. We were all just snapping picture after picture as that big ole plane with "United States of America" emblazoned on the side rolled right up to our group.

The Royal Honor Guard moved into place, flashing guns-with-knives-attached as they marched in formation. Wonder how the secret service liked that?

They marched right behind the stair truck thingee, which drove up to the plane in order to allow one guy to deplane. All this fuss, when you get down to it, was for just that one man alone.

And there he is! What? You can't see him? Right about then I was thinking I should have bought a camera with a longer zoom. But he's there, off to the left, I promise. Secretary Kerry is there, too.

There you go. You can see him there, right? Right?

Moments later, he was gone, along with the entire motorcade, speeding down the road to the palace. The luggage people moved in, the press moved out, and I took an opportunity to snap a photo of me: the closest I'll likely ever be to Air Force One.

Okay, then. Father-in-law? Is that enough for one breakfast? How about if I finish this story tomorrow? Ish. Tomorrow-ish. Because I've taken about three showers since POTUS left Jordan, and I still haven't managed to wash all of the dust storm grit out of my hair. I think it's time for shower #4 and a long nap.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's Hard Out There For a Girl

Breaking my self-imposed silence to talk about something awful that is near and dear to my heart.

I remember it well from my own school days, both in high school and college. It seems, however, that this obsession we females have with our bodies, and the self-harm that sometimes comes along with it, starts earlier and earlier.

There were girls I knew who were hospitalized, for anorexia or bulimia or other less obvious mind-over-body issues. There were girls who were cutting themselves. There were girls who were sleeping around in an attempt to find self-worth in the eyes of others. So I know this is a problem with a long, long history, a trail of tears reaching back, no doubt, before our mothers' mothers were around to experience it.

Back in my day it wasn't everyone, mind you. Just a whisper of unhappiness swirling underneath the surface of the day-to-day studying and exams and parties and does-he-even-like-me? At the time, it seemed normal, to see that unhappiness suddenly bubble up to the surface of some girl who shared a classroom or a dorm room with me. Something to pity, perhaps, but not really something where I needed to intervene, usually, unless it involved a close friend.

I've been thinking about this ever since I discovered that there is a young girl outside my circle of acquaintances who is cutting herself. I don't know her. I don't know her parents. I'm not even 100% sure I know her name. But I know the fact of it: I know that she wears long sleeves to hide it, but has revealed it to enough people that it's clear she wants help.

And so I wonder: what is my role in this? Do I even have one? I remember back to my own days of self-doubt, and I'm grateful that I made it through those days relatively unscathed. I'm grateful to the people who supported me, who made sure I understood my worth, as I made my way through the minefield that is becoming-a-woman. Most of the now-women whom I knew back then made their way through, and most are in a good place now. The ones I still keep in touch with bear their scars from those days - literal, in some cases, figurative in others. All women bear the scars of their girlhood, after all, and we all carry secrets around of the things we did and thought and pretended to be.

I think it likely, given what I know and what I've seen, that this girl will find her circle and fight her way out whether or not I find a way to intervene. Likely. But by no means certain.

I don't know her. Not personally. But I know all about her, and I wish I could tell her it will all work out. She's perfect as she is, and she needs to laugh and love and not regret. She needs to skip across the quicksand, quick quick, to get to the other side as fast as she can. She needs to forgive herself for whatever is troubling her, for whatever is inside of her telling her she is not enough as she is.

Really, though, and this is selfish me talking, it scares me to know this about this girl because I know my own girls will be facing this struggle sooner than soon. They'll be facing the judgment of their peers, and the judgment of their mirrors, and they will come up wanting, every time, because this is what girls do, to ourselves and to each other. We find fault. We find gaps. We judge harshly. We find our own selves lacking in so many ways.

And then my boys: one in middle school, one not far behind. Do boys go through this too? I don't know; I suppose they must. I know that they will have girlfriends, and they will have friends who are girls, and they will not know what pain these girls carry in their hearts. I hope my boys will grow to be kind, so that they don't one day add to the burdens that their female friends and colleagues carry in secret. I hope they will grow to face trouble where it finds them, and to help the broken people they will encounter all around them if only they are looking.

How to raise your boys to respect the women around them - not to judge on the surface but on the heart and brain and soul? How to raise your girls to understand that there is nothing lacking in them? Especially after the awful events in Stuebenville, when all I can think is let my kids never think this is okay. Not what happened that night, not what happened afterwards. And certainly let me raise my babies so they know the press coverage of that particular tragedy is horribly wrong. I've seen that girl, sick and shirtless and alone in a scary place. It happens, all too often, even when it doesn't make the news. I pray I'm raising my kids - I pray I'm raising myself - to be the person who stops and extends a hand to help. Because it is all too easy to walk on by, unmoved and uninvolved. But sometimes, even when it is hard to do, you need to be the person who stands up and says this isn't right.

I've been fortunate to have angels in my life - family, friends and even complete strangers - who kept me where I needed to be. I remember a specific time, back in college, when I was in a very dark place for reasons that don't matter now. It was dark, and I was lonely. At least I felt very alone. And I remember - all these years later, I still remember - that a classmate of mine, a young man I barely knew, approached me after class one day and said the exact words that I needed to hear to get out of that hole I was trapped in. I'd barely spoken to him before that day. And I was too embarrassed to talk to him much after that day. But something about me must have drawn his attention, enough that he took the time to tell me that it was okay, and that I was okay. In that moment, I knew he was right, and so I pulled myself out of the quicksand and off I went. Thanks to a stranger who was paying attention. To this day, I don't know why he chose to talk to me. But I'm grateful that he did.

Can I be that angel to this girl I'm hearing about? Probably not - she's too far removed from me after all, and there is no way I can reach her. But maybe you can. Maybe you'll see her today, and maybe you'll tell her: Smile. Dance. Laugh. Know, in your most secret heart, that you are perfect just exactly as as you are.

You might never know if you've saved her. But you have to try.

Monday, March 4, 2013


I give up.

For now, anyway.

Too much push, too much pull, and not enough privacy. I have the sense, at the moment at least, that I'm not really writing about the things that matter to me, either because I'm just too tired at the end of the day, or because the things that matter to me aren't really bloggable in this foreign service world of mine.

So I'm going to take a bit of a blogging break. Not sure for how long: a few days? Weeks? Months?

I always get the urge to start writing again eventually, so I'm relatively certain I'll be back soon enough. Meanwhile, I'm still over on Facebook if you need me.

No Tigers here! Just one busy mom.

Please. Write your own stuff.