2013 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 50 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Women Make the World Go Round

Traveling the world, one gets the sense that the treatment of women may be the most dramatic cultural difference from country to country.  It would be easy for one to generalize that women are treated with more respect and dignity in more developed, economically advanced societies, but unfortunately, that is not always the case.  I have found that there is usually something positive to be learned from nearly every society’s approach to women, even if it is not so obvious, as was the case in the countries of the Persian Gulf where I lived and worked.  I have also found that nearly every society, no matter how developed, is lacking in some way or another in its appreciation of women, their place in society, the dignity they should be afforded, etc.  This may be partly due to my bias on the subject and partly due to the fact that there is no monolithic, “correct” approach to gender issues that spans the globe and humanity.  But I can certainly speak to the women of my family and the importance they hold in my life and the life of my other male relatives.

It’s easy in a family like mine to under-appreciate the value of the women in our lives.  It is not because of any shortage of women, they are the dominant sex by numbers in every living generation.  But possibly, for that very reason, it has become easier to cloister ourselves, as men, in our own little world of male ignorance and ineptitude.  I do not want to give the wrong impression of my family, because we are not a family that disrespects women and we certainly do not view their place in the family or society differently than the average American family, but that just might be the problem.  Where does the average American family place a woman’s value and importance in the family and society?  These thoughts are more acute now as I watch as my wife manages pregnancy with brilliance and poise.

DSC05778 - Version 2

Rather than answer the fluid question above, I would rather focus for a moment on what I know.  I have been married for nearly two years now, and my wife has given my life the missing sauce.  Yes, that’s right, I am like tasteless pasta.  I have come to appreciate the women in my life in a different, more complex way now that I am married and expecting a child.  They challenge us to think differently, colorfully is probably the best way to describe it, and without the cold ordered insensitivity that rules our thoughts.  I guess I should not use the pronoun “us” too loosely, as my feelings and thoughts on this subject are likely not those of “us” men as a whole.  But what has brought me to this gender-based topic is the flurry of life events my family has experienced in recent years.  From pregnancies, as mentioned before, to surgeries, career changes to engagements, and unfortunately, even death, our family has had its share of, “Oh wow! Seriously?” moments.  Each of these moments has been punctuated by the magnificence of the women in my family.

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Foods of My Father

Ab Goosht

Ab Goosht

What is a man’s legacy?  What does he leave behind for his children to appreciate?  Has his legacy made the world a better place?  It would be too much to say that my father’s legacy is his cooking, but not by much.  He has been on a culinary adventure for years, perfecting his craft and taking the opportunity to teach me and others along the way.  Now that he is semi-retired he has more time to focus his efforts, and the resulting recipes and dishes he has perfected (and sometimes created) hark back to the land of my forefathers.  An Iranian immigrant to the U.S., my father’s cooking has evolved to reflect both his love for Persian cuisine and his affection for rich, delicious dishes that he has encountered along the way living in Louisiana most of his life. Lately I have taken an interest in learning the tricks he has used to refine the time-honored dishes that have satisfied our family’s hunger, along with my mom’s down-home cooking (God, I love those biscuits!), for over three decades.

Why now and not earlier (or later) in my life?  My interest has probably peaked because of a confluence of events.  My wife and I are now proud homeowners, which, I presume, is the quintessential place to begin or carry on the traditional foods of one’s family.  We are also expecting our first child in the coming months, and we hope that he or she will use those fresh new taste buds to enjoy the classic’s from the TLA family cookbook.  And as we prepare to leave for Honduras for our second assignment abroad soon, we want to be able to take the comforts of home with us to that foreign land.  Of course being at the Foreign Service Institute provides time to think, that was rarely available in Bahrain.  Finally, in classic “teach a man to fish” form, my father has also decided the time is ripe for providing me with a recipe nearly every other phone call, such that I would have been cockeyed not to take a few notes and preserve a tradition so carefully cultivated over the course of a lifetime.

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Self-portraits in the Third-Life

Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

It’s been more than a while since I have drafted anything on my blog, and I like to think that there is good reason for that.  My wife and I have bought a house, are expecting a baby, and have just completed a strenuous 6-month intensive Spanish-language course. What did I do to celebrate having survived some of the most wonderfully consuming months of my life? I decided to ditch town (thank you sweetheart) for a weekend and head to Chicago to meet up with some of my closest friends before we have a baby and move to Honduras.

Life has a way of pushing and pulling you in directions that lead you further and further from your closest friends of yesteryear.  First you graduate college, the place where many these friendships form.  Being that it is somewhat rare for “young professionals” to stay in the city where they graduate — at least for very long — inevitably, you find yourself on opposite sides of a country nearly the size of Europe.  Soon you realize that the real world has prevented you from maintaining these friendships in a meaningful way, since doing so means trekking across France, Germany, all of Eastern Europe to Moscow to reach them, and with the notable exceptions of bachelor parties, weddings, and chance encounters, the 15 days or so most young people get off a year is just not enough to provide time to meet up with these close friends with any regularity.  Or is it? Continue reading

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Español es Una Montaña Rusa Para Mi

The tools of the trade.

The tools of the trade.

As diplomats we are given the chance to learn languages as rare and unknown as Quechua and as common as French.  This opportunity is at once a rare luxury and a humbling mind warp.  More than two years ago, when I finished studying Arabic and headed off for the Persian Gulf to serve in Bahrain, I thought that most likely I would head to another Arabic or English-designated posting for my second tour, but I fortunate enough to receive Spanish training for my consular assignment to Honduras.

Unlike Arabic, I immediately found Spanish appealing.  Arabic was a struggle the whole way through, with deep periods of disappointment, as it seemed I would never be able to communicate with any degree of comfort.  It’s true that today, if someone asked me if I speak Arabic, I would be dishonest to reply with anything more than “A very little bit, nothing more.”  Spanish, on the other hand, I soon discovered, was all around me in Washington.  If I wanted to I could completely immerse myself in the language without feeling distant from where I live here and now.  I was very excited about all the Spanish I would be speaking and the people I would be speaking Spanish with in the District.  That feeling faded about a month in, when I realized it was not going to be all pupusas and cerveza on the way to learning the mother tongue of Miquel de Cervantes, nor was I going to be speed-reading Don Quixote anytime soon.

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TLA’s Best of Bahrain

My colleague and former office mate runs a blog called Two Crabs.  It’s a professional operation he’s got going on over there.  Book recommendations, a travelogue, thoughts on work life, the blog is a real powerhouse among Foreign Service blogs.  Just before his departure from Bahrain, he posted an exhaustive list of just what the title of this suggests post suggests: the best of what’s out there to do in Bahrain.  There is no way to top that, but as I reread his post I realized we differed on as many of our opinions about this little island as we agreed upon.  This is not the first time my colleague and fellow blogger has been featured on this blog.  Perhaps you remember Peace Out Man, where I semi-roasted my brother-in-bureaucracy.  Here’s my take (with minor variations to the original work) on his epic project:

Presenting the first (and not necessarily last) TLA Best of Bahrain Awards!  TLA is off to new horizons, to lands unknown, but not without first imparting a little of my less than expert institutional knowledge gained spending over 22 months on this rock on the Western edges Persian Gulf.

RECREATION

Best Friday Brunch: Meh…  If I’m really honest about it, I didn’t much care for Friday brunches.  It was overpriced, over-boozed, and overrated.  You end up spending half the day eating and drinking, and then you end up unable to do anything with the rest of your day and to kick you’re able to enjoy a headache that lasts well into the next morning.  I can think of better ways to spend my Fridays.

Best Beach: Al Dar Island is an under appreciated spot with great views (albeit mostly of oil refineries) and good times.  It’s nice to grab a beer and food and lounge on a beach cabana.  We wanted to rent one of the overnight cabins with some friends but never got around to it.  Honorable Mention: There is a little public beach down on the south western coast called Al Jaza’ir that was a lot better than friends described, and my wife and I sat on a piece of cardboard (it’s more ground up seashells than sand) and ate cheese, salami, and crackers one afternoon.

Al Dar Island

Al Dar Island

Best Tourist Attraction: Qa’lat Al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is by far the most spectacular historical monument in Bahrain.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to five forts on the seafront and ruins of civilizations that date to times B.C.  However, the most striking remnant of the past is the Portuguese-constructed fort whose minaret-shaped turret is hard to forget.  It is also a great place to people watch, as Bahrainis of all stripes converge there each evening (especially in the fall and spring) to enjoy the walking paths, ride their horses, and dip their feet in the waters of Persian Gulf.  Honorable Mention: Another newly-christened UNESCO WHS, the Pearling Pathway, traces its path through the northern island of Muharraq.  It is difficult to find and hard to follow, but for the adventurous traveler, it is worth the time and energy.

Qa'lat Al-Bahrain

Qa’lat Al-Bahrain

Most underrated tourist attraction: The Manama Suq is a fun spot to frequent if you live in Bahrain, but if you wind through the suq, passing all the gold and trinket shops, as well as the tailor shops and remittance brokers, you will finally reach the intersection where a number of the most important Shi’a religious centers face each other in a perpetual stand off, unwilling to give any more sacred ground to the others.  It is the site of the most fervent of the bloody Ashura processions each year, and the crossroads of an uprising.  Make sure a protest is not planned for your visit.

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2012 in Review: A Short History of TLA

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Vietnam: The Interview

Hanoi
Hanoi

When my colleague asked me to draft up something for Vietnam for the embassy newsletter, I was excited about the prospect.  The trip had been worth documenting, and I had a dozen ideas of different things I might write about.  But as I am nearing the end of my tour, I found little time to spare to dedicate to the project.  Then I was struck by an idea that was fresh and interesting, and probably better than anything I would have written myself.  I could interview my wife, who accompanied me on the trip to the land of Ho, and get her perspective.  It had been around two months since our trip and I realized it was probably the perfect time to capture her thoughts on Vietnam, while they are still fresh, but she has had time to process them and decide which ones will be part of her long term memories.  Ever the diplomat, she agreed and so, without further ado here is the totally impromptu interview:

(Begin our only very slightly edited [to protect the innocent] interview.  Thank you my dearest wife.)

Q: Is there anything I can get for you?

A: Yes, you can move those [decorative vases I put in dumb location where our cat could knock them over].

Q: OK, can we do that after the interview?

A: Yes.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.  I know you have a busy schedule.

A: I do.

Q: I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about your trip to Vietnam.

A: …(silence)…

Q: OK, nothing to say about that then?

A: (laughter) I’m very happy to talk about my trip to Vietnam.  It’s one the best trips I have ever taken.

Q: Great.  Save all the Vietnam stuff for the interview.  So, Vietnam: how long were you in Vietnam?  What were the cities you visited?

A: We were in Vietnam about nine days and stayed initially in Hanoi.  Then we took a boat trip out to Ha Long Bay before returning to Hanoi for the final days.

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Reflections on a First Tour

I’m nearly done here.  It’s time to move on.  My replacement has arrived and she is learning to take over my responsibilities.  This is the nature of this business; you move to a place, finally settle down and begin to understand what motivates the people that live there, and then it is time to say goodbye.  As the days begin to pass more quickly and my colleagues begin positioning themselves to manage our office’s responsibilities without me, I find myself clinging to relevance.  A relevance that is likely imagined, but seemed real every once in a while.  I realize now that I am in no hurry to relinquish my life as a Political Officer in Bahrain, but I know that is exactly what is happening, whether I like it or not.

Bahrain Fort @ magic hour

Bahrain Fort @ magic hour

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There’s Something Different About This House

With a view like this how could anyone complain?

It has been quite a while since I last posted and intended on doing so the past two weekends, but time and energy have been in short supply as of late.  But another problem has plagued me as well: what should I write about that I (and others) might find interesting beyond 2012 (assuming we make it past the Mayan calendar end date).  This blog’s purpose is in part to entertain (when possible) and in part to inform and finally yesterday, I finally decided on something that might be interesting years from now: how my living quarters in Bahrain differs from what we have come appreciate (or take for granted) back home in the States.

On the surface my apartment is not dramatically different than an apartment one would find in any large city across the U.S.  It sits comfortably on the fourth floor of my seven story building and has a nice balcony.  There are doors with locks that make sense, a kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and a dining room.  The furniture provided by the embassy is all pretty standard, and despite being a bit outdated (design name = modern colonial), it is perfectly acceptable.  But, that is about where the similarities stop and the differences begin.

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