Feeling Young in Hévíz

Hévíz is known worldwide for its lake, the largest biologically active, natural thermal lake in the world. Boasting 4.4 hectares (almost 500 000 sq. ft.) in size and 38 meters in depth, its source is exceptionally powerful, delivering 410 liters per second enabling the entire lake water to be renewed in only three days. Its temperature reaches 38 degrees Celsius in summer, and never drops below 24 degrees Celsius in winter, making it a year-round activity.  During mid-February, we enjoyed the water at 27oC outside and 37 oC inside the pavilion. This magical water is reputed to be good for arthritis, rheumatic, and motor diseases.

Besides the lake, there are many activities we enjoyed during our stay in Hévíz: the quiet provincial city and its colorful churches, the many bicycle tours available (with bicycle paths or not), the beautiful city of Keszthely with its majestic castle only 5km away, and Lake Balaton, to name only a few.

Lake Hévíz
At Hévíz, like many other thermal baths in Hungary such as Gellért or Széchenyi, the menu encompasses several pages,  covering every possibility of timing, age or family size. We arrived within two hours of closing time (3:00-5:00 pm in February), so the fee was only HUF 1,600. We enjoyed the sun casting a soft light upon the lake, the lilies and lotus flowers. As our interest was specifically for the lake and its sulfurous waters, we didn’t need to add the ‘sauna world’ option. Besides, our hotel was fully equipped with sauna and hamam. A complex of several little square houses all intertwined is built on stilts over the lake. From each house, several flights of stairs allow you to access the lake. Since the lake is deep and not everybody comes prepared with ‘noodles’ (foam floating devices) they have installed a few metallic rails that you can hang on to in order to rest. The submerged part of these rails is viscous with algae and when you swim your feet might get tangled in the roots of the lilies. It was wonderful being there off-season, as we felt we had the lake to ourselves.

For warmer water, we swam under the main pavilion, past a half-submerged door of heavy glass and metal, past a plastic curtain. This barrier keeps the source water at almost its original temperature. We were immediately intrigued by some people standing under signs featuring a bell and an arrow, which meant ‘move in this direction when you hear the bell’. So we queued like others to understand why this activity had so much success. They are seven signs and under each sign there is a hot underwater massaging jet. After about three minutes the bell rings softly and everybody moves from one station to the next. The first jet is at calf level, the second jet is at knee level, then thigh, and so on until the last jet reaches your shoulders or neck depending on your height.

The city
Hévíz is a very quiet little city with many pedestrian streets bordered by cafes, restaurants, stores selling swimwear and antiquities. It hosts a farmers market near the lake on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. Besides the museum and the Roman ruins, there are four main churches which are very different from each other. In the Egregy part of the city (north), in the middle of vineyards and wine cellars, lays the oldest one from the 13th century, or Arpad time. It is a tiny white church surrounded by a large cemetery. The view on the valley is beautiful from there. The Calvinist church has a triangular façade made of brown stones with a small white tower. Then the two newest churches are green and blue. The Heart of Jesus is apple green with a bright orange roof and shiny copper gutters. The Holy Spirit church is blue and boasts seven towers, symbols of the seven gifts to the Holy Spirit. It was recently consecrated in 1999.

church

Bicycling
This area is best discovered on bicycle. The Office of Tourism (OT) in Rákóczi Street can give you a free Hévíz Card. The main advantage of the card for us was to get 4 hours of free bicycle rental for one paid day. So we took our bicycles at 11:00 am one day and had them until 3:00 pm the next day for only HUF 2,200 per person (some hotels rent bikes for HUF 800-1,000 per hour). The card also gives discounts at the lake or in restaurants.

The OT gave us a map with many bike tour routes to choose from, depending on the bike paths, length of tour or incline. We first visited Kis-Balaton, or small Balaton Lake, which was a mere 40km tour! To reach it, we cycled through Alsópáhok and Sármellék, both elongated villages with houses lined up along the main street. For some reason, houses on the east side were more rural (animals, farm equipment) while the ones on the west side were more urban (manicured lawns), yet all were of similar architecture. Just before reaching the small lake we saw a strange church with a single pointy black dome surrounded by wings like shark fins. When we reached the lake the wind was bending the reeds along the shore. Fishermen were trying their luck. From there we took the bike lane along the canal, through the nice landscapes of rolling valleys and vineyards, to finally reach Hévíz.

Keszthely
The next day we rode to Keszthely, which is only 5 km from Hévíz. This is the largest city on Lake Balaton. I particularly like the Helikon Castle also known as the Festetics Palace after the name of the Count who built it. The interior is lavishly decorated with original furniture. In the park there is another building hosting a very large display of old wooden aristocratic coaches and sleds. Other buildings will charm model railway and hunting fans.

Lake Balaton
This lake has the particularity of appearing to be of different colors, depending on the weather and your perspective. I’ve seen it clear kaki green on the south side near Zamárdi, creamy turquoise on the north side near Tihany, and blue-grey in Keszthely. Swans are frequent everywhere and they are hungry!

swan

Lotus Therme Hotel
We chose the Lotus Therme Hotel among the many other spa hotels for a number of reasons:
o   Rooms are equipped with a king size bed with a canopy and you get a kettle to make tea.
o   Five pools: one regular pool indoor, one regular pool outdoor, two thermal pools at 36 oC and one thermal pool at 38 oC; sauna, Turkish bath, salt grotto, etc.
o   Full spa services with massages, facials, mani-pedi, etc.
o   Daily gym program every hour.
o   Isolated in a large quiet park and forest, yet only 10 walking minutes away from Lake Hévíz.
o   Best of all: high quality buffets at breakfast and dinner.

To prepare your trip:

www.heviz.hu
http://www.lakeheviz.com/
http://helikonkastely.hu/en/
http://lotustherme.net/en

Ode to Winter in Budapest

On this first day of December everybody complained all day. We have just entered real fall/winter weather after a mild month of November: temperature hovering just above freezing and it has been raining all day. Locals complain, expats complain, tourists complain – boohoohoo!

It should have been snowing – which is actually preferred by many – it is only raining, not even enough to provoke deadly inundations like in the south of France. It is not like nobody knows rain in Budapest but today everybody made it a big deal. Buses were absent or late, drivers could not drive anymore and even the biggest school in Budapest sent its 800 students back home because electricity did not work.

All our posts before Budapest were in warm countries, countries where even in winter the mercury does not go below 20 Celsius (68F). It is great to a certain extend. When do you get to show off your superb leather boots or crazy rain boots or cozy up in a warm angora sweater with a cashmere shawl? When do you light a fire in the fire place and glow, eyes half-closed sipping mulled wine and munching roasted chestnuts? People complain about the short – replace short by dark – days, but if it is not dark outside there is no reason to light candles and give the house a magic look.

Out of all places where to spend a cold winter, Budapest is probably the best. Besides all the Christmas or Advents markets (Vörösmarty tér, Basilika, Gresham Palace) and street lights, this is the only city that I know boasting an entirely lit Christmas tram. For the 6th year tram 2 in Pest and tram 19 in Buda, both running along the Danube, will be decorated with almost 40,000 LEDs starting on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th for about one month. Tramline 2 is one of the most famous tramlines running on the bank of the Danube, between Jászai Mari tér and Közvágóhíd (the bridge south of Petöfi), which means from the Parliament to the Great Market and beyond. It runs usually 4:00-8:00 pm on weekends and holidays. Personally I like Tram 19 better since it runs on the Buda bank of the Danube which means a much better view of the Parliament. It runs usually 4:00-9:00 pm on weekdays.

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Winter is the perfect time for kürtőskalács, the famous ‘chimney cake’ baked over charcoal in front of your eyes after the dough has been worked into a fine strip spun around a wooden cone-shaped spit. It is covered in sugar which turns into caramel so that when it is golden, it is removed from the coals and you may add anything that will stick to it: coco, chocolate, cinnamon, crushed almonds, or plain additional sugar. Töki pompos is another very Hungarian treat when it is cold outside, it is the Hungarian version of a pizza, baked in an oven contrarily to the lángos, which could be assimilated to a fried pizza.

This winter Christmas will be even more fun in Budapest  with the first Santa Claus run, oufit and beard included! It will start at 3:00 pm on December 6th from Fövam tér. More details (in Hungarian) on: http://www.futanet.hu/cikk/spuri-mikulasfutas.

And to not miss anything this holiday season in Budapest, check http://budapestchristmas.com/.

Now, let’s get ready for some snow!

A Perfect Weekend in Sine Saloum

Summary: 1 night in a baobab tree and 1 night in a refined B&B to discover Palmarin and Joal-Fadiouth, the heart of Sine Saloum.

Day 1 – leave at 6:00 am from Dakar. This little sacrifice ensures you arrive in Joal (75 miles – 120 km) in about 2 hours, instead of 4 or 5. The road is well paved and it is straight after Saly and Mbour.

After Joal, you are on a dirt road for 20 miles where 20 mph is about the maximum speed you want to submit your wheels to. Take the direction of Fadial and Samba Dia. About 5 miles after Joal is the oldest and biggest baobab in Senegal:  over 850 years. You can climb inside … to see the bats and the open sky. Note: on the photo is a ‘baby’ baobab, I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the biggest one in Senegal.

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After Samba Dia, turn right (South) to reach Palmarin Ngallou. The Lodge des Collines de Niassam is well marked – sharp turn on the left and dirt road for less than a mile to reach the reception. They propose several types of accommodation and since we needed 3 rooms we tried them all: the baobab room (big bed), the Berber tent room (3 small beds), and the Laguna room (big bed) where your suite is on the water, on stilts. This place also has a small swimming pool and more details can be found on their beautiful bilingual website, www.niassam.com.

Tip: when you make reservation, be sure to let them know if you are a resident, since they have different prices.

After some rest, we drove to Djiffer, the end of the peninsula. There you can rent a pirogue to go up the Saloum river and into the mangrove. It is hard to get the price under 40,000 francs but it is for a tour of 2 to 3 hours for as many people as the pirogue can fit (10 comfortably). We reached the village of Falia where we took smaller pirogues to go into the mangrove. They rarely see “toubabs” (white people) in this village and were very excited and friendly.

There are only a few restaurants in Djiffer and they are extremely simple – you eat the take of the day basically. Between the hotel and Djiffer sits the Royal Lodge where you can indulge in Western comfort, if need be.

Day 2 – After exploring the small island in front of the hotel, reachable by foot or private pirogue, we left this charming place and went back to Joal.

We stayed at the romantic B&B Keur Seynabou, very well marked and on the beach with view on the ocean. The hostess offers 3 very well decorated big rooms (sleep 2 to 4) and a swimming pool surrounded by bougainvillea of all colors.

They organize trips in the mangrove, fishing trips, visit of Fadiouth, etc. In the afternoon we took a trip to the mangrove with their boat.

Day 3 – We went to Fadiouth (nice walk from the B&B). The catholic mass with djembe and chorus starts at 9h30. Even for non-Catholics it is a marvelous show. At the end of the mass you have hundreds of colorful people coming out, all with great dresses and assorted hats. This tiny island only accessible by a long wooden bridge or by boat boasts the tranquility of a no-car island where you walk on white seashells in the streets. We visited the market and went back to the B&B.

DSC_0671

Then we headed back. After 25 miles, we were in Saly for lunch. The restaurant Chez Marie has an innovative menu with reasonable prices. On the main road to Saly it is before the roundabout, just after Bicis and a big karaoke disco, on the left.

You may do it differently but this is how we did it and enjoyed it tremendously. To explore more of Sine Saloum if you have more time you could also go to N’Dangane (East after Joal and Samba Dia) to reach Mar Lodge by boat.

Foreign Service – Expect the unexpected!

Life in the Foreign Service brings many unexpected moments and crazy memories and this is the way I like it.

Nobody told me I would …

  • Pilot a Cessna over the Sine Saloum Delta in Senegal – I don’t even have a pilot’s license!
  • Glide from baobab to baobab like Tarzan near the reserve of Bandia.
  • Eat ‘yassa’ chicken with my hands, sitting on the floor in a tiny village near Joal.
  • Take West African businessmen and women to a trade show in Las Vegas and be their nanny 24/7.
  • Drive from Dakar to Bamako on the side of the road, in the sand, because it was safer than dealing with the potholes on the road.
  • Meet Madeleine Albright at breakfast during an American Chamber of Commerce event in Mexico City.
  • Take the kids to Acapulco and learn that, just near us, the narco-traffickers had chopped a dozen heads.
  • Meet and kiss Margarita Zavala, a federal deputy, wife of then president of Mexico Felipe Calderón.
  • Welcome musician and singer Seal at the consulate, chitchat and take photos.
  • Enjoy a lucha libre show with its masked warriors. Lucha libre is a very well-choreographed wrestling competition with heroes and villains. The fun was also among the spectators, for example grandmothers gesturing and yelling chinga tu madre and all other kind of nondescript foul language.
  • Meet and kiss vice-president Biden after his speech at the Embassy in Mexico City, and later receive a letter of appreciation in Pakistan, letter forwarded from Mexico even though it had a wrong address for the Embassy in Mexico.
  • Be car-chased by a crazy man in Chiapas where hubby had to remember and apply all his classes of Crash & Bang defensive driving.
  • Eat powdered ants in a wonderful Mexican dish.
  • Participate and rank top 2 in the first ever triathlon of my life in Islamabad at an age when some of us are grandmothers.
  • Climb the full size brass antelope in the Karachi airport on a dare given by my female boss – who did it too!
  • Be called daughter by a toothless Pakistani villager, thankful that via USAID we brought her electricity.
  • Hike the Margalla hills every week and befriend Pakistani girls in the mountains.
  • Become a designer and invent many unique dresses and shirts thanks to the sewing skills of my Pakistani tailor.
  • Plant my own tree to celebrate the end of a successful project. I was a drop in the ocean of that project but as a representative of USAID, I was treated like royalty.
  • Feeling like a rock star or the Queen of England when I entered a classroom and was “showered” in rose petals Pakistani hosts had laid on the blades of the fan.
  • Sleep on the floor of the hut of unknown Thai mountain villagers.
  • Buy a beautiful and unique piece of embroidery in Thailand that the embroiderer consented to sell only because I was married.
  • Eat in bamboo plates from bamboo dishes with bamboo chopsticks that had all been carved in front of my eyes a few minutes before the meal.
  • Taste savory dishes of the curly-haired Mangalica pig during the Mangalica festival in Budapest.
  • Celebrate Valentine’s day in Bosnia (usually more synonym of war than love, unfortunately).
  • Visit an exhibition in total darkness, led by a blind guide and experience like a blind person what life is like, dinner included.
  • Hike to the top of Mount Triglav, the highest mountain of Slovenia at 2864 meters (9,400 feet).
  • Eat foie gras in a special ‘Magyar’ McDonald burger, the libamajjal, where liba means goose, maj liver and the –al suffix with.
  • Climb a Via Ferrata for the first time in my life: the steep via Ferrata Hans-von-Haid-Steig trail to reach Mount Rax in Styria, Austria at 2 000 meters.
  • Learn a few words of Chinese because I am working as a TDYer in Beijing, China, in the middle of the summer – yet the weather is not as hot as in Budapest or Paris.
  • Three years after doing a TDY in Beijing, being assigned to Beijing and invited to model a qipao dress (also called cheongsam) at a fashion and culture show in the Silk Market.

Some friends tell me ‘I didn’t know you were doing these kinds of thing’ and I answer ‘me neither’!

Discovering the US – Identity, Metric System, Driving.

I am not myself anymore.

I almost became schizophrenic. My husband’s former roommate was named Smith. The cable TV and phone subscriptions were in his name. The caller ID that appeared to others announced ‘Smith’. Therefore all the cold calls from telemarketing companies were easily identifiable. They would always start by ‘Hello Mrs. Smith”. After the first few calls which surprised me, I would just play around with them and take all kinds of heavy accents pretending that I didn’t speak English well enough to understand their annoying speech.

More permanent is the fact that one of my many given names is Minh. In Europe it is common in some families to have two or three middle names. When the consulate gave me my immigrant visa, they had no space to write Minh since the space is planned for a typical American person who has only one middle name. The last letter, the H, was truncated and all you could read was ‘Mini’. When the driving license service established my license in Virginia, instead of looking at the first page of my passport where my name is well written in full, they copied the visa page. My very official driving license, valid for ten years, bears the wrong name! Calling me ‘mini’ is nice but after breaking my back one week before the move and gaining a good 16 pounds due to the lack of exercise, I was not exactly ‘mini’ when I arrived in Virginia.

Metric system

When I shop, to find the price per kilo, which is my reference, I have to double every price because everything is stated in pounds. But the pound is no half a kilo here, it would be too easy, it only 450 grams. Once doubled, prices seem very expensive.

I have to remember a few basics: 1 gallon (3.78 liters) = 4 quarters (1 quart = almost 1 liter) and there are 2 pints in a quarter and 2 cups (cups) in a pint. So for those who have followed a “cup” is a little less than 250 grams and there are 16 ounces per pound. Instead of pinch, ounce, pound, quart, gallon, etc. it is so much easier to go 10, 100, 1000 grams or liters. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world (others are Liberia and Burma) who has not adopted the metric system – why?!

And what about Celsius versus Fahrenheit? This is a tricky matter, not only for the climate but more importantly for bakers. When we travel with the Foreign Service sometimes the house is equipped with American appliances in Fahrenheit and sometimes not! We all need a conversion table near the oven.

Driving everywhere

We kept Anna and Lisa two friends of ours kids overnight. Anna was surprised to not find our daughter at 7:00 AM the next morning.

– “Where is she?” she asked with great concern.

– “Gone to school!” I replied.

– “On foot?!? ” she exclaimed indignantly.

I explained that her middle school bus was less than 100 meters (300 feet) away. This did not seem to convince her – a good mom would have driven her child and polluted the air to avoid the poor little girl a mere 2-minute walk.

Around 7:30 AM, when it was time for Anna, her little sister Lisa, and our son to leave for primary school, I started to walk with them. Anna thought we were probably going to get The Car. We had not walked for a minute yet when Anna exclaimed “you do not have a car?!” I replied that I had one but not for 500 meters (about 1/3 of a mile), thus less than ten minutes by foot.

“But my satchel is very heavy,” she grimaced. Without playing her game, I told her that it was the end of the school year and that teachers did not ask satchels to be full therefore they should not be heavy. I concluded by something like ‘a small walk is good for your health’. I think that these friends will not want to sleep at our home the night before a school day again!

Discovering the US – School matters

Arlington is a county and not a city (some counties are re-divided into cities) which has about 200,000 inhabitants (57% white, 21% Hispanic, 10% Asian, 9% Black) from of 128 countries speaking 105 languages. This is a true “melting pot”, perfect for a Foreign Service kid.

When we arrived in Arlington, there were 18,200 students, including about 4,000 who followed the English for Speakers of Other Languages/High Intensity Language Training (ESOL/HILT). Our daughter and son were raised in English but in the French system so they were first placed in ESOL/HILT. The integration efforts and many resources deployed are so intense that the Arlington county schools rate in the top 1% of the country.

Middle School Matters

Our daughter commented that it was great to learn in Virginia because the pupils were disciplined, more so than in France, and respected their teachers. I discovered that an elementary school teacher started his/her career at about $ 40,000 in the Arlington County while in France it is barely $ 27,000 (about 22,000 euros). Low pay for teachers is a well-known fact in France and does not help them earn the respect they deserve.

Another difference is that if a student performs well s/he will get into advanced classes, potentially even following 8th grade level math for example while being in 7th grade. It is a great idea until it becomes too much pressure and competition and discrimination. In 6th grade the math program was very similar than in France and our daughter was following so well that the teacher recommended her for an advanced level, even 8th grade level when she passed in 7th grade. Then she changed school (we moved after the summer) and the program changed. It was all about fractions which are not at all taught the same on either side of the Atlantic. In France we use decimals which reads easier than fractions (0.5 versus ½ and this one is very easy). Just like when someone who has an accent is often looked upon as if they were not that clever, the math teacher started to treat our daughter as a retarded person because she could not be in advanced math, even less in 8th grade level but had to settle for 7th grade level while in 7th grade and it was probably bad for her statistics!

I was surprised to learn that my daughter had cooking and sewing classes, known as Family And Consumer Science (FACS) in middle school since these classes have been dropped from the French curriculum in the 1970s. They have been dropped from the general curriculum followed by students who are supposed to graduate and study further. These classes are still given to students following a more manual or technical curriculum.

I was even more surprised when in ‘sex’ class, instead of talking about genitals, menstruation or other needed topics they dared make that hour about fellatio!!! In 7th grade! I was out of breath. I ran to my knowledgeable neighbor and asked who I was supposed to complain to: teacher, headmaster? She frowned and flatly answered ‘Bill Clinton’. Whaaat?! Apparently, according to the survey made after the annoying facts happened, A-student middle school girls had been talked into performing fellatio on their classmates because, you see ‘it’s not sex’. The school had thus decided to advance the class a few grades to prevent this from happening again.

Primary School Matters

Our son’s first teacher was called Ms. Brat in a school called Barrett – like the hair accessory. He felt weird about this. Then the school had fun games and a show where they brought reptiles at school, big long snakes that they could put around their necks so the school became a cool place again.

One day he had an anatomy course with focus on reproduction. The girls were in another room so everyone could ask questions without embarrassment. On his return, he seemed surprised to have discovered that his penis had other functions in addition to urinating.

Whenever they do a school picnic, they go for easy things like chips, buns and hot dogs. Balanced meal??? Unfortunately our son has never liked sausages of any kind, plastic-like nor gourmet. For him picnic meant a dry bun. About school picnics my husband had a sort of opposite discovery when he proposed to chaperon one of the school picnics in France. At lunch time, the teachers pulled a bottle of red wine and offered him some. When he told me this anecdote he was expecting me to gasp and me for him to give the punch line – it was such a common thing to see teachers drink wine at lunch!

Our daughter talked more and more English at home and our son, having forgotten the French word for apple sauce exclaimed, “that’s it, I’m losing my French!” He wanted to know if we returned to France on our next holiday. Our daughter, however, thought that everything was better in Arlington.

Foods of Different Cultures

And Victoria will hopefully soon tell us all about bouye, ditakh, mad, bissap, and the wonderful lemon pie she knows so well how to make.

Life as a Third Culture Kid

As a TCK, you get to taste many different cuisines that come from different countries. Food is life ! Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and I love tasting new foods. It’s probably what I look forward to the most when I travel, or when I move to somewhere new ! The dishes that I am posting are either creations of mine, of my family, or from a neat restaurant.

#1 – Paella

This first dish here is a Paella. It is a dish that is originally from Spain. It takes a long time to cook, and many ingredients are needed too. This is a picture I took of my dad’s Paella. He had lived in Spain when he was younger, and he learned how to make this dish. Many people say that his Paella is one of the best ! My dad is a perfectionist when he cooks…

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Discovering life in the United States – First Month

If you have been American all your life, living in the United States, culture shock will come only when you move out. For me, it hit me when I moved in since I had lived in France all my life. I had traveled many times to the U.S. but there is a huge difference between the superficial view of the tourist or the business traveler and the view of the expat. So here we come Virginia, my number one ‘overseas’ post!

When I landed with the kids in May to join new diplomat hubby who had been in training for several months we went from 20 degrees Celsius (68F) in Paris to 33C (92F) in Arlington this day. Temperature shock!

Television boasted 600 channels! Even if you only kept the free ones you still got 300 – no wonder Americans invented the term ‘couch potatoes’. The kids only cared about number 44: the Disney Channel. I found eight Spanish networks, two Chinese, two Russian, and zero French!

We were in temporary housing; I discovered the common laundry room. The machine was massive, almost twice as large as a European machine. It did not spin much and pretended to be finished in 30 minutes. Where I come from it takes over an hour to wash a load.

Kids are encouraged to work early in the U.S. As soon as I printed business cards for my 12-year-old daughter, she found a pet sitter’s job! She needed to feed cats Mishu and Pasha for three days.

We toured DC to show the kids the principal sights. Our nine-year-old son found the White House too small. He liked the Capitol better.

I had an Arizona driver’s license. For $9 I received my Virginian version of it. I had broken my back just before we moved (indeed joining the Foreign Service was too simple, I had to spice it up!), so I flew in a cast that I needed to keep for several months so we also got a handicapped person placard – this felt weird!

We went to register the kids to school for the one month remaining of class. Despite being in North Arlington, we were in a very Hispanic neighborhood. When we entered the primary school with our white-blond-haired son, a kid exclaimed: ‘Oh! A white kid!’ I had never felt like a minority before. France is a true melting pot, marriages between people of different colors are common, much more so than in the U.S. so I had never heard anything like this nor its opposite. Also in France Hispanics are considered white, I discovered that it is a brand new ‘color’ here. In our son’s school there were about 70% Hispanics and at least 15% Blacks, Chinese, Nepalese, Indians, etc. In middle school, our daughter was assigned a Swedish school sponsor. Actually the Arlington school system caters to about 128 nationalities. A good start for the Foreign Service!

I was surprised to see so many bilingual English-Spanish signs everywhere: schools, supermarkets, bus, metro, department stores. I had not noticed this in Arizona which is much closer to Mexico.

Since the family was reunited again we needed much more furniture than when my husband was a ‘bachelor’ so I discovered Craigslist and FreeCycle. We did not want to buy anything new since our furniture was on a boat on its way. The beauty of Craigslist is that anything we bought there we sold for the same price or more three months later!

When you join the Foreign Service there is two important numbers to remember: 18,000 and 7,200. 18,000 pounds is the maximum belongings the Department of State will take care of for you for free whether in your house overseas or in storage and 7,200 pounds is the maximum you are allowed to ship overseas for free.

My jobs in the Foreign Service – Part IV – Islamabad

About family employment, this link http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c1959.htm will lead you to information far more complete than anything I can say. I just want to bring some personal touches beyond the statistics. See Parts I, II and III for a full picture.

After learning in Virginia, working for the Commercial Service in Dakar, the Department of State in Dakar and Mexico, Narcotics in Mexico, I joined USAID in Pakistan. For a curious person like me, avid to learn every day more and more, joining yet a different agency was thrilling.

When diplomats are deployed to sensitive countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, the family either cannot or doesn’t want to follow. If the children are young chances are that the remaining spouse will stay in the U.S. with them. Even without children some spouses just don’t want to move to certain countries. If the spouse does want to follow they have to work full time, this way they are protected inside the Embassy at least 40 hours instead of being in the streets.

When my husband received his orders for Pakistan, the kids decided that they wanted to go to boarding school and I would try to follow my husband. I immediately applied for jobs, got interviewed and was offered a very interesting position as Grants Administrator for small grants and ambassador’s grants within USAID. Small meant $70,000 to $250,000 as opposed to my colleagues working on million-dollar deals in Energy or Health. Big deals can take years to see the light and a normal tour here is one year. With my ‘small’ grants I could see, feel and touch the projects. I could meet the impacted people, and it was deeply moving.

We approved projects to build a classroom or renovate a school, to build and furnish a library, to bring water to villages, electricity to homes, to teach women how to make preserves to become bread-winners, to install composting devices, to operate poor women from blindness to full sight. In Pakistan 85% of blind persons can see again with a surgery that costs less than $100! This is mind blowing.

My first boss took me on a trip to Karachi within my first two months. I immediately met the people managing the grants and the people benefiting from them. It tremendously helped me understand the impact of my job when I got back to my daily routine.

The difference was striking between what we read in the press about the ‘bad Americans and their forbidden drones’ and the spontaneous and generous welcome we received in the villages. Women used to walk everyday six miles – one way – to fetch water for their families and could only carry a gallon or two at best. We helped divert a clean river stream to bring water to the village. In another village there was no electricity which meant less time to work (sew, knit, or make baskets for example) or study, or worse: getting bitten by snakes when they went outside the perimeter of the huts and houses to do their bodily needs in the evening. I saw how they lived. Even the ‘rich’ ones with a concrete house rather than a wooden hut only had one single room to share. Less than 200 f2 for a family of 7 to 10. Mattresses were piled up high during the day and laid out at night. Life happened mostly outside the house. One old toothless lady called me her daughter and kept caressing my hand.

I was very touched when I was asked to plant my own tree to celebrate the end of a successful project. I was a drop in the ocean of that project but as a representative of USAID I was treated like royalty. Another teary moment was when I entered a class room and they activated the fan where they had laid rose petals on the blades.

In this job I was also involved with a Gender Equity Program and you can only imagine how busy this kind of activity is in Pakistan where fathers and brothers kill their daughters and sisters to ‘wash’ their honor…when husband throw acid at their wives’ face…

Chopped heads in Mexico were far from me; misery in Pakistan was awfully close. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time in Islamabad and met great Pakistani colleagues and vendors. We had more fun than we could have ever imagined. I’ll tell you later!

Next on EFM Employment: My jobs in Hungary (CLO and EPAP Green Coordinator).

What being a TCK means to me

I like my daughter’s perspective on this because she was a teen when we joined the Foreign Service which is a tough age to be uprooted!

Life as a Third Culture Kid

The very first thing about being a TCK: it’s complicated. Many people will ask you questions that are so hard to answer. “Where did you grow up? ” “What’s your hometown?” “Which high school did you go to?” “Who is your best friend?”, and this is just a sample, to which we, TCKs answer in this manner : “A bit everywhere” ” Ummm, I’m not exactly sure” “I don’t think you know of it” “My best friend in which country?”.

Being in college means meeting new people, and meeting new people means that they will ask you questions about your life, and sometimes, you don’t feel like answering, because simple questions turn into really long answers. 

Living all over the world is very different from just being a tourist. When you are a tourist, you get to take pictures, and visit places that should be visited when going to that…

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