Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Our next adventure has started.....

So I worked hard and got all caught up on the blog about the fun we'd had during home leave and training, then all our household effects (HHE) from Fiji arrived and we were swimming in boxes....so blogging took the backseat. We have a little more HHE coming from the states (we didn't use all our allotted weight despite buying lots of hand carved wooden artwork). Our supplemental HHE is set to arrive in country later this week (not sure how long customs will take) and our car just arrived and is waiting on delivery/plates. So I thought I would take this little lull to update.

I had put some fabric I picked up in Fiji and my staple gun in our UAB (air shipment) and covered our kitchen chairs. Beyond the regular wear and tear, we will be charged for damages made to the embassy furniture we are issued. So kids + light colored seats + food.....covering was a natural decision (we had put a towel down on Clarissa's chair at our last post, but she's too big for that now).

Before Khaki & After Dark Brown w/Green Palm Tree Pattern

It's been hot here....duh Deb you live in the desert. Oddly enough, it is not like the "dry heat" in the hot deserts of US Southwest. We have humid desert here. So at bus stop time (ie early am), temps are usually mid-90s (mid 30sC) with 50-70% humidity...which makes it feel like 110-120F.... It is like stepping into an oven when you walk outside. Speaking of ovens....no more easy-bake oven for me!  Our oven is American size!!

We keep hearing that in about 1.5-2 months the weather will cool down and be wonderful. Waiting for that! In the mean time, we've gone to the neighborhood pool (which cools the water).

This is not quite half of the pool. It is great that a large portion of it is covered and there are wonderful views as it is on the roof of the neighborhood clubhouse.

Richard and I have both done some tours of the Souq Waqif (standing market)....I'll give those their own post. The company that did the tours offers lots of other fun things...we are just waiting on the weather to cool down a smidge! As you saw Monday, we had a fun little photo shoot with Isa and some American Girl glasses....while this one is not the most focused I think it portrays her feelings towards the photo shoot.

Another way to entertain ones self in stifling heat, is to head to the mall. To which there are plenty to choose from. We've gone to four different ones so far (some multiple times, as a grocery store tends to be attached to the mall). The mall that go the most "whoa's" so far has been Villaggio Mall. When you step inside, it suddenly feels as if you are in Venice, Italy....complete with a canal and gondolas. So naturally, we had to take a ride!

There are little bridges you can cross over the water and ceiling is painted blue with fluffy clouds. We spent hours there and when we walked outside to complete darkness it messed with our minds...lol.

We had to take care of some cell phone/internet business. So we found our way to that shop. What should happen to right around the corner from there? Gondolania Theme Park ....a theme park/carnival inside the mall!!

Kids were amazed to see the bright lights and rides...and since we had an afternoon to pass....we said why not and went on in to ride the rides!! Clarissa had fun driving a pink swan around a little lagoon while Mason and Richard went on a full fledged roller coaster (you can barely see some of the track going along the building facades as well as past the entrance).

Both kids rode on a little "under the sea" lazy river ride. We then rode the bumper cars, I think we did those two or three times in a row....super fun. We ran into each other a lot, but culturally we weren't sure how it would be taken to ram a complete stranger....so I just said to Clarissa we were racing them...lol.

Clarissa and I rode on the ferris wheel (here's a not so flattering selfie but it shows how high up it went and all the fun below us).

While we were on the ferris wheel, Mason and Richard rode the 'drop ride'. We happened to stopped near the top to load/unload people while they were riding....so we had an awesome vantage point to shoot a little video. There are the only two on the right hand side of the drop.

As I mentioned, we don't quite have our car yet (it arrived in country around midnight last night...not that we've been stalking it or anything). So we've mastered Uber (even let Mason Uber home from school one day), we are enjoying life with food delivery (there is an app called Talabat that allows you to order from practically every restaurant....at times it takes longer to decide where to get your food from than it takes to actually get said food!), and finally we have been busy with all the start of the school year events from new student orientation, meet the teachers, back to school night (just learning about the curriculum/grading methodology), and back to school coffees.....wooh! I get tired writing all that and thinking about all the things we've gone too. For the middle school new student orientation, they talked to everyone, then the middle schoolers went off for a tour while us parents got some more talking, finally we got a tour. Given Clarissa's orientation was right after the middle school one, she was with us....it appears she took a bit too much pleasure invading Mason's locker.

So nothing out of the ordinary here....just getting up, going to work/school/unpacking, and then doing it all over again. Same routine, just a different country!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Something Adrift

So a few weeks back, I mentioned I may have been a movie extra....well confession time....I may have given some bogus details then....here's the real deal!! The Film Fiji (ie the gov't film commission...who knew!) has been doing a great job in recent years at attracting production companies to Fiji. While we were posted there three seasons of Survivor were filmed (and I think they are still filming there), Wrecked Season 2 was filmed (we witnessed a couple scenes being filmed when we went away to a resort one weekend and went on snorkel trip with some of the production team...and personally I know one of the high profile extras) and Season 3 was starting filming when were leaving. Just after we left (ie we heard the calls for extras but couldn't apply) three more movies were filmed there - The Other Side of Heaven 2 and the Hallmark Movies A Summer to Remember and Pearl in Paradise! Those last three were all made for TV movies....but one major motion picture filmed while we were there was Adrift with Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin!

As usual, there was a call for extras. Fiji has rather stringent work visa laws (why I didn't work outside the Embassy while posted there). Though part of the process of applying for our long term residency visas included getting a TIN number for everyone. So when the casting crew called for extras they said you must have a TIN number....hmmm. So I talked to HR at the Embassy to verify visa requirements and given extras typically make peanuts they were okay with applying. Mason having always been a big movie buff and has toyed with being the "next Steven Spielberg" he really wanted to be an extra. Clarissa on the other hand hates strangers taking her picture....so she had no interest what-so-ever. So we went and applied, had measurements and photos taken....and got the call for a day of filming!! So we marked the calendar.

We also received a two page pdf of things were were not allowed to do or bring with us! In the mean time, Mason came down with pneumonia! Full blown getting chest x-rays, out of school for a week, on antibiotics pneumonia! So I did what any good mother would do....said rest all day, lunch is in the fridge, call Richard if you need anything....and I went to be an extra!! The instructions said to come to set with clean dry hair and no make up (and deodorant....I thought that was funny it had to remind people to wear deodorant). We were inspected by the head of the extra crew, some people were sent to costume, while a few of us were lucky enough to get sent to make up first. It took about an hour of magic and viola....

all my tattoos were gone! I had been a bit excited to get some 1980s style eyeshadow and big hair...but no....the only make up put on us lowly extras was to cover-up tattoos. They did a really good job - though you can see some starting to come off after 12 hours (I took this at home...I was good and followed directions and didn't take my phone on set). I was there for 11 hours and made a $100FJD (a little less than $50US) and was in the background for 3 scenes. The first scene shot is where 'Tami' is writing her mom a postcard in a little local cafe. Us extras were mulling around in back like tourists, but the way it was shot/edited you don't really see anything outside the cafe. Shailene did a wardrobe change and another take was done and either that was completely cut out or they really adjusted the lighting and it was the scene at the beginning where she is eating in the little cafe. Again you can't see anything outside the cafe. What is "funny" is initially me and another extra were pulled into the cafe and told that we would be handed a plate of food, then we would walk to a table and sit down. Then they decided it needed to be more of a locals cafe (not a tourist cafe), so we were swapped out for some Fijian extras....sigh...

The second scene shot (and the majority of the day....as in about 6 hours total, we even broke for lunch and came back to the same scene) was Tami & Richard - the main characters - shopping in the market. They gave us shopping bags, I got some flowers (I was at the market after all), they also put a frangipani in my hair and were suppose to just act like we were shopping at the market. On one of the takes, I accidentally hit (and naturally apologized when we were resetting) Shailene with my flowers. Given this scene was shot for so long, from three camera angles, and I was so close to the main characters if I was going to make it in the movie....this is the scene that would provide me with my 0.3 second of fame!

Look there I am....totally recognize the back of my head don't you!! Lol. I joked with Richard that one of the camera angles the camera man was literally right behind me...I was all they are going to use that one and my butt will ginormous on the big screen and just to make Shailene's butt look tiny! Thankfully it's just the back of my head! So all in all, I think the back of my head got about 4 seconds of screen time - enough for me to get two screen grabs in different spots!

At lunch, I sat a table with Jeffrey Thomas (he is the older gentleman in the next screen grab). He was a friendly fellow. I felt so bad for the guy with the bananas. Our reset points (ie after every take we went back to the exact same starting point and then did the exact same thing) were right next to each other. His arms/back were so tired by the end of the day and the banana bunch had definitely seen better days (some smushed, others dangling off). 

After the market scene was done shooting those of us in "highly visible" areas had to go change into new outfits for another shot to be filmed. This last shot only took one take! I was standing with two other ladies so this may be me in the middle (it is quite hard to tell, lol). This was shot at rush hour and the bus station was packed. They had us extras stand/walking closest to the sidewalk/road to "block" the modern clothing of the locals (as well as draw attention away from the phones and tablets they were holding up and taking pictures/videos with). I understand aperture settings and depth of field, but I'm still pretty amazed that it blocked out so well!

All in all, it was super fun to be an uncredited extra. It has also been fun to watch the movie and look for friends/acquaintances I know from Fiji that were extras in the movie too. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend the movie Adrift....not only does it give you a glimpse of what Suva looks like (I took dive boats out the "marina" used in the movie), it is a very moving film...based on a true story!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Promotion In the Foreign Service

Promotion within the Foreign Service is different than the private sector. You aren't promoted just on doing a good job - you are promoted based on continuously proving you are/can work at a higher level AND there is a slot open in at the higher level for you.

Here is how it works. For IMS, we all come in at a Grade 5 Step whatever. In 1 year, you are administratively (ie automatically) promoted to a 4. Then you get in line and wait to be promoted to a 3 (then to a 2, then 1, etc). Every year all State Department Foreign Service officers submit what is called an EER (Employee Evaluation Report). EER's are different, in that you write about what you did. Then your supervisor (called a rater) "rates" you. Hopefully he or she will say how awesome you are and you deserve to be promoted. Then another section has a "reviewer" write about you. For IRM, usually that is the Management Officer but depending on the Post and your position it could be the IPO, IMO, DCM. Who knows. Again you want them to say how awesome you are and you deserve to be promoted.

All of our evaluations are due each May. So from March - April everyone is frantically writing, and rewriting their EERs. Then it is submitted to an internal (Embassy) panel for review. Basically they are looking for grammatical errors, things that are inadmissible, etc. Once panel approves it, your EER goes off to Washington. Each summer the Department convenes the Promotion Panels. It's a group of about 4-5 individuals who look at hundreds (thousands) of EERs. I've heard they only have about 5 minutes to read and make a decision. So it all comes down to how well you write and convey what you've done for the past year (why you are the most super awesome person in the world and deserve to be promoted). If you pass the first round, they put you in the pile to be reviewed again. If you are in that pile they go back and read it a bit more carefully, and the board can even go back and look at previous EER's. As I mentioned above, there are only so many promotion slots. So you want to be the best shining star you can be.

Last year, I didn't even make the bridesmaids list. The bridesmaids list (not an official term) means the promotion board liked what they saw but you didn't make the final cut. In years past making the bridesmaids list got you an MSI, or Meritorious Service Increase (ie more money). Now the MSI is a separate process. Being a bridesmaids means you get bidding privileges and a "way to go" pat on the back. Last year I was mid-ranked, meaning I was doing my job right but not to the point of promotion.

The promotion results usually come out the Friday of Labor Day weekend. If you are in a different time zone than Washington, you usually find out you got promoted (or not) from friends sending you emails/texts etc. This past Friday night Deb and I were watching tv. About 1045pm my time I glanced at my phone and saw an email from a colleague who is in Washington. I know this person doesn't email a lot, so I was intrigued. I opened it up and there was the "congratulations" email! Next thing I know the congrats started flowing in.

So now what? Well the 03 grade (for IRM) is the "sweet spot" when it comes to overseas Posts. There are lots of opportunities out there. However, for those wanting to move up the 03 can also be considered "the wall". Making that jump from 03 to 02 can be challenging, and take a long time. But for now, I will just enjoy the moment.

Onward and upward....