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March 2010

Greetings from Las Vegas

Vegas, Baby 2010, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Mr. Crab is finally in America. And what better re-introduction to American culture than Las Vegas?!? Sin City! Vegas, baby, VEGAS!

Goodbye, London!

N654160108_4788958_9327  After 4 years and 8 months in England, Mr. Crab has moved back to America the Beautiful. (I'm posting this blog entry from United Airlines' Red Carpet lounge at Chicago O'Hare!).  Mrs. Crab is joining me in Washington in a few short weeks.

Everyone asks us what we are going to miss most about London life. And without a doubt, it's the pub lifestyle. Pubs in London are not just places to drink; they are an extension of one's living room. Everyone in England has their "local", their own pub they call their second home. It's a room where locals gather to socialize, talk politics and current events, play board games, play pub quiz nights or enjoy a Sunday Roast (roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and veg). A proper British pub will serve a good selection of pulls: a proper pint of bitter ale (contrary to public opinion, British beer is usually basement temperature: cool but not ice-cold). During our nearly five years in London, we had three separate locals. Our favorite London pub was The Charles Lamb in Angel-Islington. If you're ever in London, we highly recommend it. Great beer, great French-British gastropub cuisine and great pub dog Mascha! 

Our other favorite aspect of living in London was the location, affording us the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. Two hours by Eurostar high-speed train to Paris. A 45 minute flight to Amsterdam. Or how about a 90 minute flight to Munich and Berlin. Or an overnight ferry across the North Sea to Holland. During our five years, we probably saw more of Europe than the UK!

They say American and England are two countries divided by a common language. It's a little more complex than that. I could spend hours blogging about the pros and cons of life in London. Sure we had our ups and downs, just like life anywhere. But for the most part, living in London was a great experience, and a great introduction to our new life and career. Sure I have mixed feelings about moving home (temporarily), but so excited about starting my new Foreign Service Career! 

Tomorrow: Las Vegas!!

Time change

Note to Stateside friends & family: Europe did NOT spring forward yet, so you folks on the East Coast are now only four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The UK springs forward to British Summer Time (BST) at 2am Sunday, March 28.

Update: US Consulate Juarez shootings

State-Department-seal  The New York Times has posted a detailed and chilling account about the shootings. It appears that the embassy employees were deliberately targeted, stalked and gunned down in front of their children, though this is partially contradicted by a separate article in The Washington Post. Foreign Service families at all US-Mexican border posts (Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros) have been authorized to evacuate (voluntary evacuation) back to the United States for up to 30 days.

President Obama expressed outrage at the “brutal murders” and in a statement from the White House vowed to “work tirelessly” with Mexican law enforcement officials to bring the killers to justice.

My thoughts are with the victims' families and my colleagues at US Consulate Juarez.

The Department of State has just issued a very strongly-worded Travel Warning about the escalating violence along the border.

U.S. Consular Aide and Husband Killed in Mexico


The New York Times

TRONCONES, Mexico — Gunmen believed to be drug traffickers shot an American consulate worker and her husband to death over the weekend in the violence-racked border town of Ciudad Juárez, and killed the husband of another consular employee and wounded his two young children, the authorities said Sunday.

President Obama expressed outrage at the “brutal murders” and in a statement from the White House vowed to “work tirelessly” with Mexican law enforcement officials to bring the killers to justice.

It was not the first attack against American interests in Mexico by traffickers. Unknown attackers shot at and hurled a grenade that never exploded at the American consulate in Monterrey in 2008. But the killings in Ciudad Juárez on Saturday afternoon of two American citizens and a Mexican national married to an American government employee appeared to take the violence to a new, brutal level.

President Obama was quick to laud the anti-drug war launched by his Mexico counterpart, Felipe Calderón, who had scheduled a visit to Ciudad Juárez for Tuesday to address the spiraling violence there. Mr. Calderón also issued a statement on Sunday condemning the killings and promising to “dedicate all available resources” to improve security in the city.

The Ciudad Juárez shootings took place within minutes of each other about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The victims had left a social gathering at another consulate worker’s home when they were attacked, officials said.

The first attack was reported at 2:32 p.m.

Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, 37, the husband of a consulate worker, was found dead in a white Honda Pilot, with bullet wounds to his body. In the back seat, were two injured children, one aged four and one seven. They were taken to the hospital for treatment.

Numerous bullet casings of various calibers were recovered from the scene.

Another call came in exactly 10 minutes later, several miles away.

This time it was a Toyota RAV 4 with Texas plates that had been shot up, with two dead adults inside and a baby crying from a car seat in the back, the authorities said.

A relative identified the dead couple to The Associated Press as Lesley A. Enriquez, 25, a consulate employee, and her husband, Arthur H. Redelf, 30, from across the border in El Paso, Texas.

Ms. Enriquez, an American citizen, was shot in the head. She was wearing a green sweater, brown pants and black sandals, according to a police report.

Her husband, seated next to her, was shot in neck and left arm. He was wearing a blue polo shirt, blue pants and grey sneakers, the report said.

A 9 mm bullet casing was found at the scene.

Alarmed by the brazen shootings, the State Department told employees at a string of American consulates along the Mexican border — Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros — that they could evacuate their families to the United States until April 12.

Strengthening its travel warning for Mexico, the State Department said: “Criminals are armed with a wide array of sophisticated weapons. In some cases, assailants have worn full or partial police or military uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles. While most crime victims are Mexican citizens, the uncertain security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well.”

Although President Calderón has maintained that the government has control over the entire country, the State Department’s warning suggests otherwise. Because of a surge in assaults, murders and kidnappings, the American Embassy restricts diplomats from traveling anywhere in the state of Durango, south of highways 25 and 22 and the Alamos River in the state of Coahuila, and in the northwest part of the state of Chihuahua and southeast of Ciudad Juárez.

American citizens are becoming more frequent victims of the violence. In late 2009 and early 2010, four Americans visiting Durango were killed in cases that like most in Mexico remain unsolved.

“The President is deeply saddened and outraged by the news of the brutal murders of three people associated with the United States Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, including a U.S. citizen employee, her U.S. citizen husband, and the husband of a Mexican citizen employee,” Mike Hammer, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. “He extends his condolences to the families and condemns these attacks on consular and diplomatic personnel serving at our foreign missions. In concert with Mexican authorities, we will work tirelessly to bring their killers to justice.”

Ginger Thompson and Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington, and Antonio Betancourt from Mexico City.

US Consulate Juarez shootings

Details are still sketchy, but three people (including at least one American) connected to US Consulate Juarez were killed in a drive-by shooting Saturday. The State Department has authorized Foreign Service families at all Mexican border posts to evacuate to the US for 30 days. President Obama is said to be "outraged."

Things are so bad that earlier this week, State authorized Foreign Service Officers at Juarez and Tijuana to draw 20% hardship pay bonus.

Click these links to see early stories from CNN

Another article from Bloomberg:

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- The State Department has authorized the departure from Mexico of dependents of U.S. consulate personnel in cities along the U.S.-Mexico border after three people connected with the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez were murdered.

The White House issued a statement by Mike Hammer, a National Security Council spokesman, condemning the killings of a U.S. citizen employee, her husband and the husband of a Mexican citizen employee.

The incident took place yesterday in drive-by shootings, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official declined to provide more detail, citing privacy concerns. Ciudad Juarez is across the border from El Paso, Texas.

A general travel warning to all U.S. citizens also was issued as the State Department authorized the dependents to leave the cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterey and Matamoros until at least April 12.

“Violence in the country has increased,” said a posting on the State Department Web site. “It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if victimized.”

Collected Words of FSO Career Advice

(Disclaimer & Credit: This was originally posted on "Life After Jerusalem", which IMHO, is the BEST Foreign Service blog on the Internet. With apologies to LAJ, this post is so good I just had to share it.)

Collected Words of Career Advice

This was sent to me by a colleague who got it from their CDO. I think there is some excellent advise here that I want to share with you.

State_Department_Seal  The Foreign Service, as one of my mentors once put it, “is an old, tradition-laden organization, replete with baroque forms and largely unarticulated expectations.” Unlike the military, the Service seldom passes on to recruits in any systematic fashion the attitudes and codes of behavior it lives by. Over the course of my career, I’ve collected words of career wisdom and Foreign Service insight from officers I respect and developed some thoughts of my own. I’ve gone through these and provide below a mix of tactical and strategic career advice I think is useful for mid-level political Officers. As always when I give you personal advice rather than professional guidance, let me caveat by noting that these are my subjective views. Other officers may have different views about what makes a good Political Officers and what are the keys to a successful Foreign Service career.

Be good at what you do. Be the go-to guy/gal for your issues. Know your stuff, be enthusiastic and reliable, and take appropriate initiative. Own your portfolio. Managers love officers who are genuinely interested in, and thus intrinsically motivated by, what they do.

o Corollary: Know your place. This is what the Promotion Precepts call “workplace perceptiveness.” We are not a Service of equals. As 03 and 04 officers, you have a lot to contribute and a lot learn. I’ve seen, and internally cringed for, junior officers who interact in meetings as if they were the peers of more senior officers. It’s the functional equivalent of that colleague in you’re A-100 class who made it a point to tell everyone he or she planned to be an Ambassador within five years. Deference communicates respect.

Your career success will be in direct correlation to your ability to establish and maintain good professional relationships. As one senior officer put it to a Washington Tradecraft course, “People not line charts” are the key to getting things done. Build a strong network of relationships: in your office, in the Department, in the interagency. Be nice to people. We are a small community; it may take a few years, but, trust me, what goes around very often comes around. For me the bottom line is this: Brilliant analysts, returned Peace Corps volunteers, Masters Degree holders from prestigious universities, skillful writers, former Fulbright Scholars, former Hill staffers…these are a dime a dozen in the Political cone. What will set you apart are excellent interpersonal skills.

Be the kind of colleague people want to work with. Skills and competence (especially hard language skills) and doing your job well are essential. But this is the floor, not the ceiling. I’ve attended bureau meat markets and hired people; what gets people jobs is their good personal and professional reputations. The most competitive officers (usually) are those you want to work with.

Keep perspective. I really like the first of Colin Powell’s Rules: “It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.” In my experience, it often does.

Be careful with e-mail. Think twice about putting sensitive stuff in e-mails, which can be discoverable and/or forwarded to others. Take a deep breath before writing, then delete, that zinging comeback to that offensive e-mail that that idiot sent you. Check your tone – what you think is simply a minimalist e-mail reply could easily strike the recipient as rudely terse.

No one cares more about you than you. As your trusty CDO, I come close, of course, but in the end, it’s on you to look out for you. The Department has a whole huge bureaucracy to advance its interests. Document things. Get stuff in writing. For example, when you are unclear on something that involves money – say, R&R travel – (1) check multiple sources, e.g., your supervisor and your post Human Resources Officer and your CDO to get the guidance you need; (2) get that guidance in writing, e.g., an e-mail; and (3) seek confirmation that you’re doing the right thing before you finally do it, if there’s any question in your mind. And if it involves money, you should question it thoroughly. Save financial- and personnel-related written communications, including travel vouchers.

Always carry a pen and paper. Be prepared.

Take responsibility. If you screw up, own it. This is not always the norm in our culture but it will pay off in the long run. It will likely make a positive impression and establish your integrity.

No surprises. Bosses hate, absolutely hate, to be surprised by things because they have bosses too, and nothing is worse than being caught flat footed in front of your boss. It might be painful to tell your supervisor that the memo will be late or that you forgot to get a loaner cell phone for the visiting Congresswoman, but better that then not to prepare him or her for the inevitable angry blast from the Assistant Secretary or the Ambassador.

Be good on process. Spell check. Have correct margins. Read preparation instructions. Check your e-mail in a timely fashion. Provide people with interim reports so they know where things stand. Return calls. Be on time for meetings. Be responsive to OMSes and Staff Assistants. These are little things that, over time, people will notice (and remember).

Have a good sense of humor. As our military colleagues would say, a good sense of humor is a force multiplier. And being able to laugh, especially at yourself, is what will keep you sane in the long run.

Don’t just point out problems, have solutions to offer. Most managers are busy and will appreciate your effort to reduce their workload.
o Corollary: Think and plan ahead. If you’re proposing a new initiative, what’s the roll-out strategy? For issue X, who are the stakeholders beyond the immediate Department officials, and what are their concerns – and what can be done to address them? Make friends and connections with those who know how much things cost, what the admin, HR, or legal issues might be. Be able to see a decision or choice through to the finished product, ideally from a variety of stake-holder perspectives.

Promotions: Work hard, do your best, do what you can to have a strong EER, and make sure that your eOPF is correct. Then let it go. If you get promoted, wonderful. If you don’t, give yourself 24 hours to grieve, then move on. Really. Don’t waste time trying to figure out what why you weren’t promoted (and why others were). You can tilt at that windmill all you want, but you will never find the answer and it will only make you bitter.

Remind yourself of your values, frequently. We operate in a very powerful professional culture whose values pervade our daily lives and affect our sense of self-worth, often without our conscious awareness. The culture tells you that “any job worth having is exhausting.” That if you’re really good, you should be promoted as soon as you are eligible. That you should avoid long-term training assignments and detail assignments. That asks you why would you want to go to “backwater” post X, which is off Washington’s radar. That you should of course prefer the stretch assignment in a job that'll make you unhappy to the at-grade job that you’d love. You need to be aware of this powerful cultural force and actively push back.

o Corollary: There are many different kinds of Foreign Service careers. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, multiple war zone assignments will be right up your alley. If you want a good life/work balance, you can do that too. If your eyes are on the ambassadorial prize, then you will want to Staff Assistant-NSC-Washington assignment it up to the top, quickly. If what really matters to you is that you have interesting assignments, that’s another course. Each track has a price you’ll have to pay: slower promotions; less time for self, life and family; health and safety risks. You need to know what you want, make your choice, and then be happy. Fend off the nagging “cultural” pressure that tells you that you should have made different choices. Remember who you are.

Pack-Out Day!!

State-Department-seal On Wednesday, we completed our first of hopefully many government pack-outs. (A "pack-out" in layman's terms is simply an international move). At 8:40am, two friendly British blokes turned up at our front door. They were fast, efficient, packing our entire flat in three hours.

Packing for an international move is no easy task. Mr. and Mrs. Crab have been preparing for this day for two months. We began the process the same day I received my invitation to A-100. Mrs. Crab, being a logistics genius, took the lead on this task. She created detailed inventory WORD documents, accompanied by photographs of nearly every single thing we own.

The hardest part was picking what to keep and what to sell/recycle.  We held a huge yard sale last month and sold practically all our furniture and electronics (UK electronics won't work in the US and most other parts of the world). Next, the stuff we kept had to be divided into five categories: UAB and HHE (Like the military, the  US Foreign Service is all about the acronyms!), check-in luggage, carry-on luggage and Goodwill.  UAB stands for Unaccompanied Air Baggage. We were allotted 450 pounds worth of UAB stuff that we could bring to our temporary housing in Washington DC. This is stuff that we will need for the next 6 to 12 months whilst I'm in training; stuff like pots & pans, our good knives, Mrs. Crab's bicycle, clothing, our camping gear, plus our ski gear in case we're still in DC next winter. The majority of our stuff was HHE, or House-Hold Effects. This is stuff that will now be placed in government storage facility in an undisclosed European country; we won't see any of this stuff again for nearly a year when we arrive at our first overseas post. Stuff that went into HHE includes some furniture, extra clothes, photos, CDs, DVDs, knick-knacks, souvenirs, books and other stuff that we can live without, but don't want to part with forever. 

The move itself went very well. Nothing broken and everything was well-packed with care. Our moving guys were great and had us laughing throughout the morning. For insurance purposes, we were not allowed to help pack or move anything, so we were pretty busy anyway. A big part of this process is keeping our own inventory. So we divided into teams; Mr. Crab followed the guy packing our UAB stuff and Mrs. Crab followed the HHE guy. The movers kept their own inventories but it was very basic. For example they would just write "Kitchen stuff" on a box and on their inventory sheet, but our own inventory list was much more detailed. Instead, we were writing every single thing going into every single box. Each box is numbered and labeled so we can easily pull individual boxes in the future without having to get all our junk. The guys worked in assembly-line fashion and packed and sealed so  quickly it was almost a blur. Because we live in a 150-year-old Georgian building with tiny narrow stairwells, the movers ended up lowering all the
boxes from the 2nd floor window down to the sidewalk and onto the awaiting truck.

The guys finished in three hours flat, including coffee and smoke breaks. After they were finished, the supervisor asked me to review and sign his two separate inventories for UAB & HHE. The guys drove
away. Mission completed, went to the pub for a celebratory pint.

We're now sitting here in a mostly empty two-bedroom apartment, living out of our suitcases! Next Wednesday, I'll be on a plane for Washington DC. This finally feels real!

Greetings from St. Johann Tirol, Austria

St. Johann in Tirol, Austria, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Over the next few days, I'm redesigning the look and mission of our blog. Because we're moving from London back to the United States, this web site will no longer serve as a clearinghouse for Americans in London.

The primary goal of this blog will now be to 1) keep our friends & family updated on our current life and whereabouts; 2) provide an inside view of life in the US Foreign Service and 3) provide information for those interested in pursuing a career with the US Foreign Service.

More details TK! (journalism-speak for 'to come')

Homeward Bound

After five years in London, I'll be back home in the good ol' U. S. of A. in less than 12 days!  We've had a busy past few weeks packing and preparing for our international move. Mrs. Crab has taken the lead on the pack-out, creating detailed inventories of everything we own that's going on our move. Our first step was to decide what we are and are not keeping. We decided to sell almost all our furniture, since most of it was just cheap Ikea stuff. We also decided to sell all our electronics since they won't work in the US. We held a yard sale last Saturday and are happy to report that we sold almost everything! There was a line out the door when our yard sale began!

The government packout involves separating our remaining belongings into three categories: UAB, HHE and check-in/carry-on.  UAB, or Unaccompanied Air Baggage, is 250 pounds of stuff that will be flown directly to our new apartment in the Washington DC area.  HHE is HouseHold Effects; we are allotted 18,000 pounds of such stuff including kitchenware, books, linens, extra clothes, photos, framed pictures, furniture, etc. This stuff will be sent to storage and we won't see it again for up to a year when we arrive at our first overseas post. The final category is check-in; as the name implies, it's stuff that we are carrying on the airplane as either check-in or carry-on luggage.  Mrs. Crab has done a fantastic job separating everything into different rooms. On Tuesday, a representative of the moving company came over to conduct the pack-out survey and he was impressed at our preparations.

Next Wednesday is our "pack-out", when all the UAB and HHE stuff will be packed and shipped out. After that, we'll be living out of our suitcases!

In the meantime, I've been also busy filling out tons of government forms, plus dealing with the usual moving tasks like canceling our utilities, saying goodbye to friends and doing some last-minute London sightseeing!

More to come!