Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August Notes

Notes from a Small Country
(with continued apologies to Bill Bryson)

Hello friends, and welcome to another super convenient opportunity for you to waste another thirty minutes or so with us as we regale you with adventures from abroad!  No need to thank me…  So grab an iced tea or lemonade, stake out a spot on the hammock, and enjoy!

Время Летит! / Vrem-ya Le-teet! / Time Flies!
Well friends, welcome to August. 

This means – incredibly – we have been in Moldova for a year already.  Half of our tour is complete.  It also means that, for those of us who are preparing for a third tour (or beyond), bidding time is just around the corner. 

“Bidding” is the process of finding a new job for the next tour.  The first two tours in the Foreign Service are considered “directed” tours, where the State Department basically chooses your post for you, with only a little input from the Officer.  Bidding is essentially like looking for a new job in any other professional environment:  finding an available job you like, learning about the specifics of that job, contacting and lobbying the necessary parties who make the decision, interviewing, all that stuff.  Well, and learning about the country it’s in and the major issues important to being there; that part’s a little different, I suppose.  From now on, the State Department will have little to say about those posts on which I bid.  Ultimately, however, the Department can put me where they need me, as I have agreed many, many times to serve wherever, based on “the needs the Department.”  Reaching this level (a promoted, tenured, about-to-be-third tour Officer) simply means I have quite a bit more say in the decision, but of course it’s not total.

Once the employee and the decision makers at the onward post have an agreement, it is called a “handshake,” and generally means no one else will be considered for that job any longer.  It’s like a conditional offer of employment, and other bidders can see what handshakes have been offered using a special State Department program we all access.  It’s conditional because, as happens in this life, things sometimes change that upend the process.  After I receive a handshake, I could get hurt riding my bike after a sudden, unexpected arboreal stop, or there could be a coup d’état in the country I agreed to serve in, causing the closure of our Embassy there.  So it’s never official until you actually have agreements on all sides, the right time has passed, and you’ve officially been assigned to the position.  And even then things can still change.  (Like that unexpected coup d’état, for example.)

Officially, the handshakes can’t go out until a certain date, but there is a lot of talking between the various parties that goes on in advance of this date.  Often it gets to the point where the two sides ask one another – in essence, and before that date – when the time comes, will you accept?  So the post or bureau says, “Would you be likely to accept the job if we offer it to you?” and the Officer says “Would you be likely to actually hire me if offered?”  When the answers are yes, these little overtures can result in kind of an unofficial agreement, informally known as “air kisses.”  Seriously. 

Handshakes and air kisses.  There’s no way I could have predicted that was part of State-speak when I joined almost five years ago…

Anyway, we will be hot and heavy into this process over the next couple months, and hope to know our onward tour come about October or so.  At the moment, we’re busy researching potential jobs, countries and regions.  Soon I’ll begin reaching out to people in the places on which we’re most likely to bid.  And for those at home getting out the atlas and planning their next trip abroad, our current top choices include Mustachistan, Elbonia, Equatorial Kundu, Brobdingnag and Freedonia.

So excited!!

The Grind
There are elements of every job or career that are, shall we say, not the most fun.  I know there are some people out there in Foreign-Service-Officer-land who love doing non-immigrant visa (NIV, most commonly known as a tourist visa) interviews, that staple of Consular work around the world.  I don’t know who they are, but I’m sure they must exist.  However, I have yet to meet a single colleague who has ever said anything remotely like, “You know, if I could spend my entire career just adjudicating tourist visas, I could die happy.”

Some new officers (because it’s almost always new officers, as once you’ve reached the mid-level of this career you manage other Americans and local staff, and typically don’t spend much of your day interviewing applicants for tourist or other visas) spend an entire two-year tour doing nothing but NIVs.  They typically find themselves assigned to posts in one of the Big Four (Brazil, Mexico, India or China), because the volume of applicants in those countries is, well, pretty ridiculous.  Officers in China, to use the most extreme example, issued 2.6 million NIVs in 2015 (out of 10.8 million issued worldwide).  The vast majority of these were of the most common type, the tourist, or B1B2, visa, and a very large percentage of these required a face-to-face interview with an officer.  (For comparison, in Haiti there were 37,000 NIVs issued that year, 7000 in Moldova, and – because you know you want to know – in the Federated States of Micronesia there were 5.)  Also consider that this statistic is for issuances only, and so of course does not include refusals, of which there were 3.1 million worldwide in 2015.  That’s a lot of talking:  Fourteen million three- to five-minute interviews around the world, and in places like Mexico City or Brasilia the interviews aren’t even that long, often lasting one minute or less.

So the NIV is the bread and butter of Consular work, but it’s exhausting.  Well, I find it exhausting to interview between 50 and 70 people, most in Russian, during my work day.  (Admittedly, I’m not the fastest interviewer.  Those Officers in the Big Four are likely doing somewhere around 200 a day, if not more.)  It’s a big part of the job, but not my favorite part of the job.  Some unicorn Officer out there will probably take issue with me on this, but that’s the way it goes.

While in Haiti, I conducted just over 7000 NIV interviews during my eight months working in that unit.  Here in my little corner of Europe these days, officers (well, only me at the moment) don’t work in one unit for months at a time like in bigger posts, rather we do a little of everything (NIV, IV and ACS) every week.  NIV is important, to be sure, but my personal preference is for immigrant visa (IV) work, as well as American Citizen Services.

IV work is more interesting to me, particularly because the people I’m interviewing are going to move to the US permanently (if their visa is approved), and they tend to be pretty happy at the conclusion of the interview.  [For a refresher on some of the various immigrant visa categories, take a trip down amnesia lane here:  http://nyij.blogspot.com/2013/10/under-october-haitian-moon.html.]  It’s a little like having control of a powerful magic wand which gives me the authority to decide, and then to wave it and say, “Viola! You are now a budding American!” at the end of these interviews.

The Lotto
In the vast majority of cases, to immigrate permanently to the United States one must have an immediate relative already in the US who petitions for family members back in the home country.  This is the most common, most typical way to immigrate to the US, and these new immigrants then become Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs, or green card holders).  They may pursue citizenship later, but there is no requirement to do so.

If you think about that for a minute, it might occur to you to wonder about how the first guy came to America, the one who had no family here in the first place.  Of course there are other ways to get to the US besides this process, for example as a refugee or asylum seeker.  But perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the immigration process, to me anyway, is the Diversity Immigrant Visa program.  The two of you who read this drivel of mine will likely recognize this is as the so-called “green card lottery.”

The program was created by Congress in the late 80s and 90s, and has had several iterations over the years.  Basically, it was created in order to encourage emigration from nations which had historically low rates of immigration to the United States in the past, and now includes all countries whose total immigration to the US did not exceed 50,000 at any time during the previous five years.  In other words, the intent is to create more diversity in the pool of those immigrant populations seeking to become LPRs or citizens.

Today, 50,000 diversity immigrant visas are made available each year world-wide for native people of those countries which meet the criteria.  No nation may receive more than seven percent of the total in a given year, and currently only nineteen nations are not on the list of DV-eligible countries, since they already have plenty of immigrants to the US through normal, family-based channels.  And in truly lottery-like fashion, those selected are chosen by lot once each year.

Here in Moldova, there will be about 2000 DVs processed during fiscal year 2017.  Aside from meeting all the normal criteria like a clean bill of health and a clear criminal record, selectees for the DV program need only the equivalent of a high school diploma or higher.  (In case you’re wondering, Haiti is one of the nineteen countries that does not participate in this program, so this year has been my first experience with DVs.)

I love DV interview days.  Aside from Friday afternoons, they are my favorite weekday.  In fact, I so enjoy DV interviews themselves that I pull up YouTube on my computer at the interview window, and while I’m preparing the paperwork and the electronic file before I actually interview the applicants, I put “Coming to America” by Neil Diamond quietly on repeat.  It’s such a cool thing to know that I’m a critical step in the process for these new immigrants, those who are heading off “to a new and a shining place,” as Neil sang, as it has been for two hundred years and for untold millions of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.  These interviews can be a little emotional, as you’ll understand shortly.

(Small aside:  I’ll bet that high school kid – Johnny Kim – who put together the video to the song for Mr. Struck’s AP US history class wonders why the views on his version of the song have suddenly exploded.  If you want to add to his views, go to https://youtu.be/cRTHdC7k4uY.)

The people I interview for DVs have spent about two years in the process, more if they entered the lottery in years past but weren’t selected previously.  So they’ve been at this awhile, and have come to the most important part of the process, other than actually landing at JFK or wherever, and then passing through immigration and customs.  At the conclusion of the interview, they learn (almost every time) if their visa has been approved or refused, and we don’t refuse too many of these (although it happens – stay tuned).

There is a perception in many countries – and Moldova is no exception – that getting an immigrant visa is equally as hard as getting a tourist visa (mostly not true), and that the process of applying for the visa, filling out forms and acquiring the necessary documents, making the appointment, and coming for the interview are all very, very difficult (time consuming and complicated, but not terribly difficult), and further that the vast majority of people have their application for a visa refused by mean Consular officers like me (more likely true for tourist visas, but not so much for immigrant visas).

And since perception is reality for most people, this becomes the reality for people I see at the window.  Often they are extremely nervous (expressed in English by Russian speakers as “having emotions”), to the point that they sometimes hyperventilate a little and their hands are literally shaking in the interview booth (about three or four times the size of a telephone booth – for you kids playing at home, ask your grandparents what a telephone booth is).

I use this perception to my advantage a little, for during the entire time with me (maybe ten minutes, including basic introductions, fingerprinting, the interview itself) many people are nervously thinking they will have their visa refused.  I ask them the usual questions about their family and marriages (if any), find out if they’ve lived in any other countries before (if they have they may need a clean police record from those countries before I can approve their visas), confirm they have the required educational level, make funny faces at the babies and take the “fingerprints” of young kids (not required if they’re under 14, but they’re often fascinated by the process, so I have them go through the motions and then ask them to place their noses on the screen, which totally confuses them but makes them laugh), and other general conversational stuff like what they do for work, what they want to do in the US, and inquire about any family they may have there.  Since refusals almost never happen, there is usually great relief – often outright joy – when I get to tell them « ПоздравляюВаша виза одобрена! » / Poz-drahv-lah-you!  Va-sha vi-za ah-do-brena! / Congratulations!  Your visa is approved!  I’ve had couples break into tears; old women blow me kisses; people offer to shake my hand through the bullet-proof glass; and many of sighs of relief, including lots and lots of smiles.

I’m amazed by these people.  Some of them are no older than my own children (twenty-something), unmarried and have no family or friends in the United States.  And they are about to strike out on their own in a completely new nation, with no real contacts or connections or practical language ability (some are really pretty fluent, but others have very little), and no job prospects or apartment or car or anything else.  It’s incredible to me that they are willing to take such risks, and completely start over when they haven’t even started life here yet.  Some of them have only the bare minimum in terms of education and language, and I wonder how they’ll survive.  All other possible permutations of families show up at my window as well:  highly educated married couples in their 30s; retired couples going to live with their kids in Chicago or Sacramento; grandparents, families with three or four kids, singles and newly married couples.

It’s this last category (newly married couples) that provides some extra interest and scrutiny, sometimes even entertainment.  We call them “pop-up spouses,” which involves an unmarried, single individual who has entered the lottery as such two years ago, but then shows up at my window with a “new” spouse.  Regardless of their age, they’ve quite often married in just the last year, sometimes as recently as the month or two before the interview.  As you can imagine, this category is ripe for fraud.  Picture a family in the village somewhere who has a marriage-eligible but single son or daughter with few prospects for the future.  They learn of that nice neighbor boy or girl having just won a DV, and so the parents or families get together and work out a deal or what have you, so that the two youngsters will quickly marry and then head off to the Promised Land together.  Perhaps it’s two singles in their 30s whose friends learn of the winner and put the two ‘lovebirds’ into contact.  Like life in America, the possibilities are endless.

I’m sure you can imagine the line of questioning at the interview.  I tend to get the business-stuff out of the way immediately (educational credentials, clean police records and such), so as to get down to brass tacks:  the relationship between the parties.  How long have they actually known one another?  How, where and when did they first meet?  Who initiated the first conversation?  Does she know his parents and siblings?  How many siblings does she have, and where do they live?  How, where and when did he propose marriage?  Was anyone else there when it happened?  Who?  Where have they traveled together?  What does she do for work?  What details can he provide about her work?  What does he do in his free time?  What do they like to do in their free time?  And one of my favorites:  Did he ask her father for permission to marry her before he asked the girl, and if yes, how did that go?

As it turns out, I find most of these relationships to be legitimate.  Often they’ve know one another for years, they can speak in detail about one another and their respective families, and simply married recently because one of them was notified of their selection in the lottery and they just want to stay together, which is totally acceptable and legal.  If I have doubts, I can separate them and interview them individually, pressing each on details to see if their stories match, suss out the veracity of the relationship.  And like I said, most of the time it turns out they are legit. 

But not always.  I had a young couple not long ago who had to be refused.  She was the DV selectee (the lottery winner), spoke decent English, and more than met the other minimum requirements.  Unfortunately for her, she married a guy about four or five years younger than her (culturally unusual here), and when I interviewed them together, they showed no normal signs of being in a relationship, none of the usual verbal and non-verbal stuff you might expect of a young, newly married couple.  This one was particularly difficult because she was clearly qualified all on her own, but likely this guy and his family and friends convinced her to enter into this marriage for his sake.  They had little in common, and he knew almost nothing about her.  She didn’t know much either, and when I separated them, I could see in her eyes the struggle she was going through.  Nonetheless, I believed she did not have a true and legitimate relationship with this guy, and therefore I believed she had entered into the relationship with the intent to fraudulently gain an immigration benefit for him.  These interviews are not fun, despite my finding that fraud was committed, because she was likely pressured into this situation, and in a sense is a victim.  Yes, she agreed to it, but still. 

Another trend has been to submit fraudulent or fake documentation to show a DV applicant meets the necessary minimum criteria.  The most common recent example is for applicants who did not actually graduate from high school to purchase a fake diploma showing they did.  We verify all diplomas with the Ministry of Education, and when one comes back as not existing in their database, the applicant is refused, and has created for themselves a permanent ineligibility to enter the United States.  Just the other day I had two cases to refuse in this way, including one guy who was married and had a teenage son.  After some additional hard questioning, by me and by our Regional Security Officer (a US federal law enforcement officer), he ultimately admitted to having purchased the document from a vendor because he knew he did not have the necessary education required, and the vendor assured him this would work.  Immediately after he left the interview in tears, the next guy entered and basically fessed up before I could even ask any questions.  I suppose fortunately, he was unmarried and childless, so it was just his future he was messing up. 

Thankfully, these are not very common, and I usually get to make new Americans with the wave of my magic wand.

Moldovan Potpourri #1 – Things You Never Considered Before
I don’t really like getting haircuts.  Frequently I find myself in a salon somewhere, surrounded mostly by women who are happily chatting away about this or that, and I’m slumped in my chair, working hard to avoid conversation, just waiting for it to be over.  It’s not that I’m anti-social, exactly.  It’s just an uncomfortable situation for me.  I like the washing of the hair (who doesn’t?), but maybe that’s because I’m never going to be expected to hold a conversation with soap suds filling up my ears. 

With that in mind, add to this pleasant little scenario that one occasionally might need a haircut when living in a foreign country.  Perhaps you speak a little of the language, but when you plop down into the chair you realize that none of your language training prepared you to speak about things like where you usually part your hair, what size razor guard to use for the back, or what the Russian word is for sideburns (ба-ки/baki, just in case you were curious).

When you’re a Consular Officer, trivial things like haircuts and dentist appointments can get even trickier, at least they do in my mind.  I can never stop imagining that the woman wielding sharp instruments around (or in!) my noggin, will at some opportune moment point out – in the gravest of tones – that I had just refused her a tourist visa the other day.

Sometimes life is hard.

Moldovan Potpourri #2 – Verbal Excellence
So it’s no secret I’m not the mostest bestest language learner, but after sufficient time (usually by the end of a two-year tour), I manage ok.

Of course mistakes happen.  And when you’re me, they happen quite often.  Mostly it’s the grammar stuff that I just haven’t managed to commit to memory, or the reverse, I’ve memorized it, but it was never correct in the first place, stuff like the gender of a noun or the wrong conjugation of a verb.

Sometimes it’s more, well, horrifying or entertaining, take your pick. 

In a stellar example of my linguistic abilities, I was interviewing a guy one day who told me that he had a small transport company in town, a very common job here.  I was asking him this and that, prodding him about how many vehicles he had and other details.  Unfortunately, when I asked him about his marshrutka (a small minibus which carries about ten to twenty people), the word which came out of my mouth was matryoshka, which is that classic Russian nesting doll.  As happens with these things, I then repeated the error a second – perhaps even a third – time, and had one those moments of realization at exactly the same time I also realized my local colleagues were quietly giggling behind me.  It was all good natured, and we’ve had a laugh about it several times since.

Sometimes it’s not so much a linguistic error as … just an error.

Before interviewing applicants, we must preview the electronic version of the application.  My colleagues have access to these applications as well, and sometimes in advance add helpful notes to help guide the interview.  For example, they may note the connections between this applicant and family who may have interviewed for a visa in another city, details about previous refusals or that the applicant has noted an income level that is suspiciously high.  One day I was previewing the application and read a note indicating the applicant had a broken arm. 

In my congenial, disarming way, when I called up the applicant and began the interview, I very casually and very conversationally asked her what she managed to do to break her arm.  She smiled quietly to herself, and then uncovered her arm from under her coat, showing me that not only was her arm not broken, it simply wasn’t there.  Whoops.

Moldovan Potpourri #3 – The Salute
So when driving around town in our super fancy 2006 Toyota RAV4, it sometimes happens that we will pass another Embassy, or maybe the residence of the Ambassador from France or Westeros or wherever, or some other diplomatic building of some sort.  The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires the receiving state to provide protection to diplomatic missions in their nations.  In practice here in Moldova, this means that the local carabinieri are stationed 24/7 outside the various diplomatic locations, ostensibly to assist with protection from things like barbarians coming over gate and such. 

Mostly it appears the members of the trupele de carabinieri (a quasi-military force with civilian policing duties, like the gendarmerie in some other countries) are all about 16-years-old, and appear to be armed with air rifles.  Of course that’s not true, entirely, but that’s kind of how they appear to me. 

So when driving past one of these installations these young men are protecting, when they see a vehicle with a CD plate on it – which identifies our vehicles as belonging to someone in the corps diplomatique – they are supposed to salute.

I’ve never been quite sure how to respond to this, and I know some colleagues have expressed the same.  Do you smile and wave a friendly hello?  Ignore it?  Salute back?  I was never in the military, so it’s a little odd to do, but I’ve taken to saluting back when I notice them saluting me.  It feels even stranger to do so when in shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap, but there you go.

Communists Are No Match for Old Wives
Europeans this far east, and Russians in particular, are a superstitious lot.  Of course this might be said about many nations and their people, including every baseball player who ever lived.

By their nature, superstitions have managed to outlast the development of scientific knowledge.  However, consider that superstitions in this part of the world have survived two other extremely powerful forces: a thousand years of Orthodox Church influence, and seventy years of Communist Party rule.  In other words, they’re pretty powerful.  Not even the Russian or Moldovan Bill Nye can convince them otherwise, and they are often taken very, very seriously. 

Superstitions are very common in this region.  Many are familiar to most Americans, such as black cats crossing paths, broken mirrors and knocking on wood.  Others, however, are more unique to this part of the world.  For example, it’s considered bad luck to whistle when inside the house, and before leaving on a journey one should sit for a spell before departing.  (What exactly one is supposed to do while sitting is unclear to me.)  Young unmarried women aren’t supposed to sit at the corner of a table or they won’t marry, and certainly should not sit on the bare ground – or worse, a cold rock – or they will become infertile.  We wish an actor or performer good luck by saying “Break a leg!;” in Russian the same sentiment is expressed by saying «Ни пуха, ни пера!»  / “nee pukh-a, nee per-a!” / Niether fur nor feather! – to which the only proper response is «К чёрту!» / “k-chior--tu!” / To the devil!  Makes about as much sense as wishing harm on someone, I guess.

There is one, however, that I find most intriguing.  People in this part of the world love to be outside.  Couples can be seen strolling through the parks and along the streets in the city center whether in the heat of summer or the dead of winter.  Perhaps due in part to fewer cars per capita, many people walk to the store, to work or wherever all year around.  Unless one lives in a high-rise apartment, it seems everyone creates as much useful outdoor space in their yard as possible, filling every square inch with gardens and fruit bearing trees.  Private homes often have entertaining space in the outdoors such as terraces and patios, which often feature built-in brick barbeque areas.  Another very common outdoor feature is the беседка / be-cyed-ka, which doesn’t exactly have a full equivalent in English, but is like a gazebo or alcove, the use of which is principally for rest and conversation (беседa is one word for conversation in Russian, the root of the word above), of course made much better with food and drink.

Our backyard беседка.

So people like to spend a lot of time outdoors, which is what makes this particular superstition all the more puzzling.  Clearly if one is outdoors in all seasons, one is exposed to, you know, air and stuff.  Sometimes the air moves, often resulting in a pleasant breeze.  However, if one happens to be in the house and two open windows or doors create a cross-breeze, or a draft, there is a serious problem.  This is called сквозняк / skvoz-nyak, and it can kill you.

Evidently there is a strongly held belief in the region that this particular type of breeze – not, you know, bacteria or viruses – is the source of runny noses, colds and illness.  (Similar to the old wives tale about wearing a hat in winter to keep from getting sick, I suppose.)  Not long ago Kate was home and the housekeeper was here helping prepare for one of our parties or something.  Kate had both the front and back doors open, creating a nice flow of air through the house.  Iulia insisted Kate’s recent cold was the result of the deadly сквозняк.

This might also explain the practice of our friends in Minnesota (who grew up in Moldova) who regularly keep doors and windows closed on those beautiful spring or fall days in Minnesota.  Sometimes it extends to the outdoors, such as the little old ladies Kate saw one day while walking RTWD in the neighborhood who, upon noting Kate was hatless, abruptly reached over and pulled up her hood so the cool breeze didn’t bring on the onset of imminent death.  Moldovans love the outdoors, but work very, very hard to protect against the evil breeze by rarely going out without a scarf or hat, even on beautiful spring or fall days, and kids are bundled up like Death Himself is lurking close behind, just waiting for the opportunity to strike once that hat or scarf is removed.  And then there is air conditioning, which has its own particular evils, along with drinking anything cold, which helps explain why ice for water or soda is not at all common.

One day earlier this summer I rode the bus to work.  It was only 730 am and already it was pretty hot.  Of course none of the windows on the bus were open, so it was like a sauna in there.  Immediately starting to sweat through my shirt, I thought to myself “Would it kill ya to open a window here??" and then I realized where I was, and that yes, it probably would.  I guess not even surviving several millennia of long Russian winters hasn’t inured many people here to a nice breeze or to the cold.

До встречи! / Until Next Time!
Once again there go thirty minutes of your life you’ll never get back.  Hopefully, it wasn’t time completely wasted.

Since we were last together, you and I, Sophie has completed her six weeks of work in the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy, and has now returned home.  At one point I recall her saying that she felt, among all the things she’s “started” in her young life (multiple new school years, several summer jobs in Minnesota, and three summer internships at two US Embassies), this was the best start she’s ever had.  Fortunately, it stayed that way the entire six weeks, and she had a wonderful experience working with great local colleagues in the PA Section, meeting with numerous Moldovan young people, and of course, hanging out with her awesome parents.  But that time has now passed, and she’s happily back home in Minnesota preparing for her final year of college, and catching up on all the news that is news with her pals. 

Tommy continues to work his way through “A-school” (Advanced training school) at the Center for Information Dominance in Florida, anticipating a full-time assignment come October, about the same time we’ll know our Post for tour #3.  Kate will have the good fortune to visit him there later this week, in fact, although for me it looks like my next visit will have to wait until November, unfortunately. 

Kate and I had some nice travel opportunities with Sophie, including a really nice – but way too short – weekend in the beautiful and fascinating city of Istanbul, and a trip to Kiev and Chernobyl since Sophie wanted to see it before she left, because, well, who wouldn’t?  In September I have a short training in Rome and Kate will fly to meet me in Florence for a long weekend, so we’re really looking forward to that.  We’ve done some additional exploring around Moldova, visiting a few wineries and various historical sites, and hosted some guests from the States, introducing them to this quiet, beautiful little country.  We both continue our work as normal, and try to perfect our role as morale boosters by hosting parties and attending CLO-sponsored dinners most Friday evenings.

Fields of Lavender punctuated by poppies.

Enjoying a sunny day at the Lavender
Festival, outside of Chisinau.

My girl, the Lavender Princess.

Cliff in Old Orhei.

Orthodox church in Old Orhei.

The view from cliff-top looking down at the
entrance to a hidden monastery.

Old barefoot monk inside the hidden monastery.

Entrance to the hidden cliff-side monastery.

Chateau Vartelly winery.

Chateau Vartelly tasting room.

Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.

Courtyard of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.

Hagia Sophia, far left and the Blue Mosque, far right.  Istanbul, Turkey.

3/4 of the Team entering the village of Chernobyl.

Memorial to the heroic firefighters.

Control room for the Duga radar installation near Chernobyl.

Control room for the Duga radar installation near Chernobyl.

Inside the school in Chernobyl.
Surely the setting was staged.

The abandoned swimming pool in Pripyat.

Other CLO events Kate has organized include periodic Happy Hours at the Embassy, Saturday morning Story Time for kids and parents, a Fourth of July picnic for about 100 Embassy staff, and back in March an Easter party for the kids, which is where this photo originated.

In it, I’m competing in a silly contest called Easter Egg Roulette, a play on the Egg Roulette game made famous by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.  Several dozen eggs are placed in the center of the table, with about ¾ of them hard boiled.  Players take turns grabbing an egg and smashing it on their foreheads (as you do), and howls of derisive laughter erupt when one turns out to be raw.  As happened to me several times during the competition.  It’s all great fun.  I recommend you try it sometime!

And thus ends this edition of Notes.  Life for us in this little corner of Europe is good.  We hope you can say the same.

The opinions expressed within are my own and not those of the U.S. Government. Please do not disseminate widely without permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment