a gathering place for the words, images and momentos of the world of adventures i've adventured, the stories i've wandered through. curriculum bella vita...a resume, of sorts, of the good life.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Long Gone Hong Kong

Today's Ganesha day! Tomorrow's Eid! Monday's Labor Day!

So J. Jewett's off to China!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Two Percent Club

I don't write a lot about my job here, as this is a personal blog. And the job du jour is just one of many pretty fantastic adventures that 1. I enjoy rereading 2. feel obligated to share with my parents in lieu of consistent emailing 3. hope others can find the stories fun, funny, useful, meaningful or some combination of any adjectives pleasant. So i'd rather share stories than mindless babble about being a bureaucrat.

And there's another reason: A personal blog doesn't mesh well with a very public job. In much of what i do and say abroad, i'm representing the United States of America. These words, this forum certainly isn't that, though. This is my space to share with friends and family. And It's fine if others stumble onto it, that's half the fun, of course. But this living journal is for me, the curly-haired kid from Wisconsin, not the guy who got the Telugu-version of his business card scanned into the second-largest Telugu-language newspaper this week.

And sometimes when i'm sitting at the visa window, often rushed and cranky, plowing through a hundred interviews a day, i forgot that i am in an important, noteworthy position. It's easy to forget, counting to one hundred, how important each number is. Especially to the human on the other side of the number. But the business card itself is kind of a big deal.

Any misstep can put you in The Two Percent Club...

I started training in February 2010 with a hundred amazing classmates. After 5 weeks, we spread out across the world, complete with some darn good-lookin' belt buckles. Since then, we've got on to hundreds of thousands of visa adjudications in dozens of languages, success in the drug war in Columbia and Tajikistan and even a 151st marriage somewhere in steamy South America.

Of the one hundred of us, though, two of us have already been jettisoned from post, send packing to a new exotic adventure a few years ahead of originally schedule. In little over a year, two percent made a minor misstep -- an unapproved travel or an offhand comment -- that became an international incident of enough note for prudence to dictate that a fresh start was in the best interest of diplomatic decorum and American interests.

Luckily I am the most sensitive and discreet individual that many of my friends know...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Messenger, Not the Message

Sometimes being a ghora in India is such a damn novelty that they have a hard time continuing about their business without stopping to take a picture or listening to what you're saying...

Case in point?

A day-long media blitz promoting advanced studies in the US and giving Indian students good information about the process. The public affairs people paired me with the US-India Education Foundation country coordinator, a Syracuse grad who sent her son to study in the US, too. We spoke with four newspapers, two english, two telugu. She did most of the speaking, as she's the professional advisor. I chimed in on the visa perspective: do your own personal research, don't rely on agents to do everything for you, prove that you're a credible student, separate yourself from the students who are more interested in working than getting a good education, don't rely on fake documents, etc. We ended the day with a televised session with a (small but cute) live audience.

The first article to come out?

"American Official...A Speaker of Pure Telugu"

The article starts off by bemoaning how Telugu-vallu go off to America and forget all their Telugu or come back with a poor accent, but here's an American who learned Telugu for 6 months by reading our newspaper (they were a bit boastful) and he speaks perfect Telugu.

This article may or may not win a Pulitzer Prize for truthfulness...

And how much of the article is dedicated to the student issues we were trying to present? Uh, none. But we're hopefully it might be included in a special section at a later date. Whoops.

Oh, and yeah. That IS my business card scanned into the newspaper of the second-most-widely-read telugu newspaper...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Monsoony Weekend

Afternoon monsoon rainshower, hardest I’ve seen yet. Power just went out. Laptop battery still going. But in desperate need of a continuous-power supply source for the wireless router.

Roads are a mess driving (read: riding) into work for a Saturday shift of webchatting and revocation memos. Debris everywhere, including a lot of frighteningly large stones in the middle of the road. Giant back-ups as traffic is condensed because of huge puddles. Not a lot of well-thought out draining solutions here.

Good weather to catch up on blog posts.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Itfarring (or "The New Face of the Consulate")

Joined the public affairs folks on a beautiful iftar (a fast-breaking dinner during the holy month of Ramadan) in a Muslim school near the Old CIty. The school welcomed us with open arms, and we put on some fun programs/games in English and Urdu. Muj talked in Urdu about being a Muslim in America while a few other of us talked with the kids in English about America. It's amazing to talk with a group for whom the idea of America is such a blank slate. The only state they could name? New York. The only American actors they could name? James Bond and Jackie Chan. Close...

After a sunset prayer, we broke (their) fast. First dates, then fruit, then haleem, then biryani. Over dinner, i had a great time mixing English and Hindi with a table of 10th standard girls and learning about their lives. I talked to four girls about their fathers, 2 had passed away, 2 were autorickshaw drivers. None of their mothers worked. The monthly tuition is $5. For many of these families, that's a huge investment, it made me happy to see them making that commitment to young girls who were dreaming of being computer engineers, teachers and doctors. Heartwarming.

Funniest bit? Afterwards, the staff posted pictures of the goodwill outreach on the facebook page. The consulate doesn't label officers in action, partly for our benefit. five minutes after the picture went up, though, a certain Mr. Abdul was quick to identify me...as "fast becoming the face of the consulate!"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Diagnosis

After two weeks of hosting a dermatologist, here's where we stand: She gave a fancy word to my exceptionally large wenis and suggested i take a picture of the moles on my back. She did not volunteer for the task.

More importantly, she asked, "So what are the steps you're going to take to make your job/stay more pleasant?" My answer wasn't very insightful. "Shoot, that's the kind of question i usually ask rather than answer."

And if the roads didn't drive her buggy with motion-sickness the first half of her stay here, I'm sure the epic traffic jams of late make even Cleveland look real good. Getting in and out of Chowmahallah Palace, my first day time visit, was an epic, unworldly, frustrating three-hour adventure of near-death proportions.

Counted amidst the jam? Cars. Trucks. Buses. Motorcycles. Autorickshaws. Push cars. Cycle rickshaws. Bicycles. Pedestrians. Horses. Buffalo carts. And a Camel.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

One Photo?

What its like going out in public when you're a ghora in India:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Cities of Joys

The coolest thing about Jen? She took my recommendation "read City of Joy" and make it even better. she bought an old copy of the Dominique La Pierre classic and turned it into not only her Indian novel of choice, but also her journal of the Indian experience. every day she alternates between reading and writing. hot damn.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How to Houseboat the Backwaters of Kerala

You could argue all day long about how there's nothing "authentic" about houseboats and "God's Own Country," Kerala, but that hardly matters. It's a great way to savor an amazing piece of the Indian experience. Imagine floating carefreely through a system of backwater canals mapping out an infinite number of paths through beautiful rice paddy countryside. Yup, that's exactly how JDB and I spent our friendship honeymoon.

As beautiful as the scenery is, though, the chance to peek into village life along the canals is even more fascinating. 75% of the passage is lined with houses, you're free to observe traditional living with a smile and a wave. Every house has a small boat and a small ghat of steps down to water level, it's the center of life of the community. People bath in the river. People brush their teeth in the river. People wash their pots in the river. People herd their ducks in the river. People ride the watertaxis and water-school buses. It's beautiful to watch. (Although in truth you do need to bring a book if you go for more than one night.)

Getting There:

Rent a car from the Kochi airport or Kochi city center. Expect to pay about 1200-1500 rupees for the 1.5 hour ride.

Getting a Houseboat:

One possibility is booking a houseboat online, there are a variety of websites offering a wide range of boats/trips. Another option is to arrange a houseboat through your Kochi hotel. We turned down 5500 boat offered by hotel because we wanted to see the options and we thought it would be easy to do in the low season.

We hired a car to take us to Alleppey, and the driver offered a connection on the ride. We ended up on his friend's boat, 6500 rupees for a well-equipped one-bedroom AC houseboat. Tougher than expected to bargain at the site, because the boats were not at a centralized location due to upcoming snake boat races. Price includes staff of three, all meals, bottled water, etc. Expect to pay 100 rupees per bottle of piss beer unless you plan ahead and bring your own.

Bring bug spray and suntan lotion. Paths along the river are muddy, bring sturdy sandals that can get dirty. Bring books, paper and pen. In fact, bring extra pens, as kids like them.


Delicious Keralan food, prepared fresh three times a day, plus snacks. Jen enjoyed the veg entrees, I liked the fish.

Hiking along the riverbank after docking for the evening, a 30 minute stroll north of St. Thomas church. Making friends with precocious children, who were in the market for one pen.

Stopping for a lunch break in provincial Champakulam, giving ourselves a VIP tour of the local hospital, St. Josephs Mission Hospital.

Postcards from picturesque post offices.

Finishing a book about Custer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Derma Camp 2011

JDB and I don’t actually know each other all that well. In fact, we’ve only met twice.

But we’re pretty intertwined. We both worked at Camp Chief Ouray. Unfortunately our stays didn’t overlap, but I did work with her cousin and her brother. We both studied in Madison, albeit for only a brief period at the same time. She lived with one of my old ALPs coworkers and a law school classmate. And we’ve both hiked with the same friends, just never at the same time.

Thanks to the prodding of a meddling cousin and an overactive imagination, I was kinda hoping she was coming to India for a CCO fairytale, but alas a boyfriend back home nipped that plan in the bud pretty early on. (Darn O.P.G.F.s...) Instead, she had honest-to-goodness decided to come to India for the skin diseases. Enjoying her two-weeks of annual leave from dermatology residency to visit HIV clinics, leprosy colonies and health camps in slums.

Her early morning arrival was delayed an entire day due to problems in DC, but Raghu and I were able to whisk her through the deserted nighttime streets under the cover of darkness, so her first experiences in India were the far more gentle apartment surroundings. But from the first day, she dove into India, crossing streets like a champion and lining up a variety of observations. The stories she’d tell every night over dinner were pretty amazing.

Having a two-week houseguest was great. She jumped into high culture (diplomatic dinner parties full of bureaucrats) and low culture (Planet of the Apes) alike. She was the perfect excuse to discover new favorites around town: 1857 and Waterfront. We walked through the Bollywood Ohri’s, but didn’t stay for the buffet.

After all, we were off to Kerala!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Planning for China

It’s nerve-wracking being a visa applicant!! Where are the clear directions?! Why do different websites say different things?! What documents do I need to submit?! What documents do I REALLY need to submit?! Who can I turn to for advice?!

Akh, I see now why people complain so much about visas.