Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Home Sweet Home

I moved into my permanent home this week. Overall, I'm pleased with the house. The colors are more muted and subtle than most other embassy housing (my temporary house had pink-mauve swan tiles in the bathroom - I have absolutely no bathroom accoutrements that would go with that).

Like all big houses in Kathmandu, the bigness is spread out vertically. There are three floors... but wait, there's more! The third floor has a nice deck with an outdoor staircase that leads to the laundry room and a puja (prayer) room. Mere words cannot describe this:

I am right across the street from the prime minister's residence. From the deck I have a nice view into the compound. The downside is that the machine gun-wielding police who guard the compound from watch towers have a nice view into my bedroom window.

I'm sure the prime minister will knock on my door any day now with a batch of brownies to welcome me to the neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can You Find Nepalgunj on a Map?

My first trip outside Kathmandu was to accompany the DCM to a combating trafficking in persons program in Nepalgunj, along the Indian border. Transportation in Nepal is sketchy. Bus accidents happen every day and recently a small plane crashed near Kathmandu, killing 13 people, including 4 Americans. So I admit I was a bit nervous about the one hour flight. But we were flying on Buddha Air - what could go wrong?

The flight was fine and the program was about what you'd expect from a day of talking heads. Here's some insight into how things work in a third world country.

* Everyone has to give opening remarks. No less than 11 government and local organization officials delivered remarks before the DCM, an hour later, delivered her spontaneously shortened speech.

* The power will go out several times.

* Even when it's hot and muggy, hot tea will be served and you will be expected to drink it.

* There are more bicycles, rickshaws and cows on the road than there are cars. So you will never go more than 25 mph.

The highlight of the trip was to watch a street drama. This is a popular way to inform people, in an entertaining way, about important topics like trafficking in people. A Nepali theater troupe, indirectly funded by USAID, prepared an hour-long series of skits showing how people get scammed into forced labor, prostitution, etc. and how the law protects them. It sounds like a gloomy subject, but the troupe was very good, using humor and really engaging the crowd.

The next morning I had breakfast with a few local journalists and learned a lot about the press. I left with a renewed determination to reach out to more rural journalists and provide training opportunities.

The flight home was bumpy. I guess Buddha was in a bad mood because we hit the worst turbulence I've every felt. If anyone had been standing in the aisle when it hit, they would almost certainly have been tossed around a bit. It's all part of the adventure.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The New Girl in Town

It's been just over a week since I arrived in Kathmandu. Moving to a new home in a new country while starting a new job is hectic no matter how prepared you are. But I'm off to a great start. Granted, my permanent house suffered water damage just a couple days before I arrived, so I'm in temporary housing for another week. But that's been the only blip. Knock on wood.

The first few days at the embassy were dedicated to getting checked in and making the rounds. I'm fortunate to have a great local staff, which made those first few days less painful than they could have been. Now that the administrative stuff is mostly done, I've been able to focus on actual public diplomacy work.

Which leads me to the best part - I love this job! I've already released a press statement about the Ambassador's meetings with the Prime Minister and the Maoist Chairman, prepared remarks for the DCM for a Combating Trafficking in Persons program, and have been invited to participate in the Ambassador's off-site retreat to review the Mission Strategic Plan. Not bad for my first week.

When I joined the Foreign Service, this is exactly the kind of work I envisioned myself doing. It's taken 5 years to get to this point. I plan on enjoying every minute of it.