Monthly Archives: July 2014

Packing a Go Bag

One thing that stood out to me during my time in ConGen was the concept of a “Go Bag.” While not a revolutionary idea, it hadn’t occurred to me to have one until I was sitting through a lecture on Crisis Management. The last time I ever had something resembling a Go Bag was in the fifth grade, my mom had packed me an “Earthquake Preparedness Kit” should a big one ever rock SoCal while I was at school. Every year, from kindergarten through fifth grade, my mom would pack a large Ziplock freezer bag with a sweatshirt, granola bar, and a picture of our family. Thankfully, those kits were never used and no longer necessary once I got older.

Yet, now that we are moving to a foreign country where there are a lot of unknowns and finding help during a crisis is a LOT farther away, I’ve decided it’s time to prepare us for the worst. Since David is part of the response team during an emergency and his departure will be delayed during an evacuation, the main Go Bag would contain stuff most relevant to his needs and those in need of immediate care. I, on the other hand, would leave during authorized departure with Pigpen, and would theoretically have more time to get my stuff in order with a few suitcases. Nevertheless, I am making my own small Go Bag which would contain some basics for me and Pigpen. Needless to say, *all* Go Bags would be out the door in an emergency situation.

I have been working on organizing these bags for the last couple weeks and am getting closer to having them finished. I figure it is easier to get the supplies for the Go Bags in the U.S. and have them already assembled before we leave so that there will be no delay in our preparedness for a disaster. It also helps that I have extra time on my hands and can easily access most of items at the local Target. We will ship the bags with our Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB) when we pack out of our temporary housing which should arrive a couple of weeks after we get to post.

For people in the State Department (EFMs included), 7 FAM 1800 Appendix B offers a nice checklist for the crisis management team, as well as the State Department’s Overseas Crisis Readiness program found at www.state.gov/overseascrisisreadiness. I am using both resources to create my own personalized checklist. Here’s a peek into our Go Bags:

Diplomatic and Official Passports
Immunization Records
Travel Orders
Important Documents
Phone lists and other contact information
Pens
Spiral notebook
Swiss Army Knife
Flashlight, batteries
First Aid Kit and Trauma Kit
Non-prescription meds (Ibuprofen and Vitamin C)
Hats
Insect Repellent
Anti-itch medication for insect bites
Sunscreen
Toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.)
Snacks
Tissue
Roll of toilet paper
Feminine Hygiene products
Wet Wipes
Umbrella
Change of clothes (three pairs of socks, underwear, shirts, pair of pants, sweatshirt)
Dog Food
Collapsible travel dog bowls
Chew toy
Family photo 🙂

*Note: We *are* packing water bottles, but will have to include those once we get to post.

Are we missing anything?

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Reflections on ConGen

*Disclaimer: I apologize for all the acronyms, one thing I’ve learned in the last six weeks about government work, is that everything has one! In fact, our class was given a list of about thirty acronyms and we were instructed to figure out what they meant… I, of course, did not know even one. This is government speak.*

I am finally done with the six weeks Basic Consular Training course (aka ConGen). Woohoo! Time for summer break. While the course was rigorous and challenging for me at times, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to do it since I learned a lot about Consular Affairs and the services provided overseas to U.S. Citizens. Even if I don’t end up finding a job in Dhahran at the consulate, I feel that this brief introduction to government work gave me a better understanding of the mission abroad and of the work my husband does in supporting and protecting our interests. The course was broken up into four modules: Passports and Nationality, Immigrant Visas, Non-Immigrant Visas, and Special Consular Services (i.e. Welfare and Whereabouts, Arrests, Deaths, and Financial Assistance). We learned about the laws surrounding and informing these cases and what a Consular Officer’s role is in upholding the law while serving the public. Being very new to reading and interpreting laws, I did my best with the material. If anything, David and I can now have more educated discussions about work and I feel more a part of the Foreign Service community. You say there are many cocktail parties in my future? Bring it on.

While opening me up to a new discourse, ConGen also provided me the opportunity to make new connections. In my class alone, I met a few people who had lived in Saudi Arabia for different assignments and they gave me some perspective and advice, most notable relating to pet travel with Pigpen. From there I met some other Saudi veterans who actually organized and hosted a happy hour for all the Saudi newbies. It was very thoughtful and informative and helped to reassure me of any doubts. Some things we have to look forward: picnics in the desert, royal weddings, travel to Thailand on cheap flights, dates served with Tahini sauce, weekend trips to Bahrain, and fabulous weather in the winter with temperatures averaging in the 70’s. And of course, some things to keep perspective on: limitations placed on women’s rights (e.g. not driving and areas where men only are allowed); religious expectations and considerations (e.g. currently, Muslims are observing Ramadan until July 28, and employees of the consulate have been instructed to be respectful of the holiday, taking care not to eat in front of those who are fasting); keeping on the lookout for opportunities where we might be able to experience Saudi culture, since much of it is kept off-display to the public.

I have a couple more one-day courses that I am signed up for, so I am hoping that I will continue to receive good tips and information on Foreign Service life in general and possibly on Saudi Arabia more specifically. I will keep the blog updated.

As an EFM (Eligible Family Member) new to this lifestyle and not knowing many people in the community yet, these courses offered at FSI (Foreign Service Institute) have been a great resource for me. Actually, I now wish we had extra time here in DC so I could take some more. Even an introductory course in Arabic would have been nice. Whatever questions we still have at this point, our sponsor and Community Liaison Officers (CLO) at post are our contacts for specific information.

As a plug for Consular Affairs, if you are planning on traveling abroad in the future, check out STEP on travel.state.gov. It is the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program, which registers you with the local U.S. Embassy in your host country. By registering, you get access to country-specific travel alerts and warnings sent out by the U.S. government for nearby citizens. It’s a good precaution to take.

Below is a picture of my ConGen folder. It is the symbol of the Bureau of Consular Affairs surrounded by the Management and Leadership Tenets. They are lofty ideas, but good reminders of the values that we must uphold in our work. Some may come more easily than others for different people which is to be expected, but hopefully not a reason to quit trying. I admire CA setting forth some tangible goals for the agency to focus on since much of the work people do at post is isolated and SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). Some of the more challenging tenets, I imagine, are related to the broader picture, such as “Implement Sustainably” and “Think Globally.” Just something I’ve been pondering and will keep in my mind once at Dhahran.

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Moved Out and Moving On

It’s been four weeks since my last post and this blog is long overdue for an update. Now that my FSI (Foreign Service Institute) training is concluding, I will be able to enjoy the summer a bit more and catch up on some of my favorite past times, including some DC sightseeing. June resembles something of a whirlwind at the moment where each second was dedicated to training, caring for Pigpen, planning for Dhahran, and packing out our New Jersey apartment. Thankfully we are now all moved out and many steps closer to being organized for our overseas move, but still many more boxes must be checked before we can rest – chief among them being the procurement of our Saudi visas.

This 4th of July, David and I plan on taking Pigpen and a picnic blanket to Gravelly Point where we will be able to enjoy the DC fireworks. Gravelly Point is a nice park located next to the Potomac River and Reagan National Airport. We’ve been there before with Pigpen to watch the airplanes taking off and to enjoy some time near the river. We figure that since he’s overcome any fear of the loud airplane noises, he should be fine with the fireworks. The DC fireworks are shot off from the National Mall, a few miles from Gravelly Point where there is a clear view of the National Monument. It should be fun and we are looking forward to the three day weekend.

Pigpen has grown a lot in the last month and is now four months old. He is fifteen pounds and developing quite a solid physique from all the activity he receives at home and at Doggy Daycare. We frequently take him on walks around the neighborhood and he enjoys a lot of attention along the way. Most people cannot pass by without offering some form of adoration either by giving him a friendly comment or a pet on the head. If the nice passerby stops for the latter, Pigpen often exploits the kindness by rolling over for a full belly massage. He knows how to charm the worst of them. David and I often reflect on how wonderful it’s been to have Pigpen as part of the family. Even with the 5:45AM alarm going off, the recent development of arthritis in my knee, and the limitations he’s placed on our free time and weekend excursions, he fills us with constant joy. As I write this post, I have one hand on the keyboard and the other hand on a toy as he plays a lazy tug-of-war with me. I’m told that having a puppy is training for parenthood and I am beginning to understand why.

 
I received a hopeful email this morning in response to an inquiry that I sent to post regarding employment opportunities, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that my training here in DC pays off and I will be busy working the next two years. I won’t know anything more for another few weeks at least.
 

In other fun news, David joined an acting class that begins this Saturday… I can’t wait for him to be the next Bruce Lee!

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A few sights from DC.

 

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Some pics of the pack-out process. You can see the boxes are marked for “Storage” and “Sea.”