Friday, October 01, 2010

Having the day off, I actually have some time to post.

So, some more Tropical Storm Nicole related material, to celebrate the bringer of destruction (and free time...).
The bridge at Harbour View Ford washed away in a previous storm related catastrophe several years ago, and from what your faithful correspondent gleans from conversation, the government of Jamaica decided to begin reconstruction right in the middle of this rainy season. The result, portrayed in this cartoon from the Jamaica Observer newspaper, is that the half constructed bridge washed away in the flooding of the recent tropical storm.

Deadly Stormin' in Jamaica

The US Embassy closed early on Wednesday, as the flood waters on the street began to threaten the commute home. And the US Embassy stayed closed all day Thursday, barring emergency services for American Citizens in the country, and PD contacted local media asking visa applicants to stay home and stay safe.

Staying dry, however, is not an option for some Jamaicans this week. The rain was combined with intense wind last night, and that was after more than two days of heavy rain had already overwhelmed Kingston's poor drainage infrastructure.

According to a BBC report, the death tole from the flooding had reached five victims by Thursday afternoon. This is easy to believe - the rivers running through some of the major roads in the capital city were carrying coconut sized boulders as if they were beach balls. 

Tropical Storm Nicole, which grew out of Tropical Depression #16 over the past few days, appears to remain stuck over Jamaica, despite earlier reports that it would be on its way to wreak havoc in Eastern Florida by this time.

According to the Jamaican Weather Service, a flash flood warning remains in effect through Friday.


September 30, 2010 – 5:00 p.m.
The Meteorological Service has extended the Flash Flood Warning for low-lying and flood prone areas of all parishes until 5:00 p.m. tomorrow.
A FLASH FLOOD WARNING means flooding has been reported or will occur shortly. Motorists and pedestrians should not attempt to cross flooded roadways or other low-lying areas as strong currents are likely. Residents in low-lying areas should be on the alert for rising waters and be ready to move quickly to higher ground.

Although Tropical Storm Nicole has dissipated there is a broad area of low pressure that extends from the Bahamas, across Cuba, Jamaica and sections of the western Caribbean. Radar reports and data collected from weather stations across the island indicate that throughout the day scattered light to moderate showers and thunderstorms, which were heavy at times, affected most parishes.

The broad area of low pressure will continue to influence weather conditions across the island for the next 48 to 72 hours. The forecast is for continued showers and thunderstorms to affect Jamaica for at least the next two days.

Due to the gusty winds and above normal wave heights north and south of the island, fishers and other marine interests are being advised not to venture far from port.

The Meteorological Service will continue to monitor the progress of this system.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From the Nurse

A little reminder from the nurse here in Kingston.
In short, don't get dengue.

Reminder to Staff Re: Dengue Fever…..

Reminding all staff that if they think they have dengue fever it is important to see their doctor to have a blood test done to confirm the sub-type of dengue fever. Many viral infections have similar symptoms – so one cannot assume that they have dengue without the confirmation of a blood test. It is also important in order to know the type you have been exposed to as your risk of contracting hemorrhagic dengue (the more serious type) increases with each exposure.

Dengue Fever:
This is an infectious, disabling mosquito-borne fever. Dengue is caused by a virus carried by mosquitoes of the genus Aedes, usually A. aegypti, which also carries yellow fever.

The classic symptoms, following an incubation period of five to eight days, are high fever, which includes extreme joint pain and stiffness, intense pain behind the eyes, a return of fever after brief pause, and a characteristic rash.

Convalescence is sometimes prolonged, with weakness and low blood pressure.
There are four strains of virus;   Dengue 1, 2, 3 and 4.
A person infected with one type of dengue will subsequently only be immune to that type. They will not be immune to other types of dengue and will, in fact, be at risk of developing severe symptoms if they contract another type of dengue.
Infection with one type does not confer immunity to the remaining three.
Dengue hemorrhagic fever, a severe form of the disease, can cause hemorrhage, shock, and encephalitis. It occurs when a person who has acquired immunity to one of the viruses that cause dengue fever is infected by a different dengue virus. There is no specific treatment for dengue fever except good nursing care. Dengue can be controlled by eradicating the mosquitoes and destroying their breeding places.
Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms. Patients should be isolated during the first three days, when mosquitoes can pick up the disease from them. Prevention relies on mosquito control.                                                                            

 Dengue Fever Treatment
*       See a doctor / general practitioner (GP) immediately.
*       Please do not self-diagnose. The only way to confirm that you have dengue fever is to have a blood test. This is also important in order to confirm the sub-type.  Many flu viruses have similar symptoms and people may assume they have dengue when in fact they are suffering from a viral infection.
*       Stay Isolated for 3 -4 days after symptoms appear
*       If you have dengue fever, mosquitoes that bite you may pass dengue on to other people.
*       Medication.
*       Drink plenty of liquids and take Tylenol/Paracetamol (acetaminophen) for fever and pain.
*       Do not take aspirin or ibuprophen because it can affect blood clotting.
*       Wear insect repellent.
Dengue haemorrhagic fever treatment
All patients with dengue haemorrhagic fever need to be hospitalised for fluid therapy and monitoring.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good Morning Jamaica

Dawn can make almost any place a little magical, if only for an instant. Especially when you have a balcony to observe it from...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Meager Belongings: Shaw to Caribbean

One of the very beneficial benefits of working for the State Department is that I get help to move my most precious (and useful) belongings, so that I have my french press and my favorite lamp as I start a new life in Kingston, Jamaica.
The movers were professional, and usually nice, as long as I kept out of the way.

"Oh, books, great..." The movers were not overly enthusiastic about having to help pack up my piles of bizarre things and heavy books. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Labor and Media in China

spent the past five days meeting people and learning the conventions, practices, international agreements and organizations, etc that are consequential to the duties of a Labor Officer. Part of my portfolio when I arrive in Kingston will be labor issues, which includes reporting on labor conditions in the countries, the government's compliance in enforcing international labor standards (as agreed upon within the International Labour Organization), major strikes or organized labor movements, etc. The US foreign affairs community is interested in labor issues on several fronts, and the "Decent Work" agenda is supported by the government, the business community, and of course the national labor unions.

Today we had meetings and heard presentations at the Solidarity Center, where the focus was on the international labor movement, especially how labor activists in the US were not only forging and maintaining bonds with communities of workers in other countries but how they American unions are supporting and helping to develop labor movements in countries where labor standards are not well enforced.
China was always an interesting caveat in these discussions, since the government controlled union is one of the world’s largest and because it is illegal to form private unions. While this poses challenges to the broader community of workers seeking solidarity with the workers of China, that is not to say that labor plays a small role in the country. On the contrary, despite the controlled nature of much of China’s news media, labor activists that I talked to today said how prominently workers issues, working standards, and worker actions against unacceptable work conditions were featured in Chinese media.

Even Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping remarked recently on the importance of labor unions in the country – see “China’s labor unions play unique role: Vice President” in The People’s Daily, a national English Language news source from China.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Finally, an Ambassador for Jamaica

"New US ambassador will be extremely valuable to Jamaica"

Well, almost... but not quite yet. The Jamaica Observer, among other publications, speaks of Amb Bridgewater's nomination as "pending." The US mission in Kingston has gone without an ambassador for 18 months. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Immigration and Consular Work: A challenge to ideals?

This is not a post about policy, or even about practice. This is a rumination on the beliefs, not fully formed though they are, I have developed regarding immigration, and how those views may be challenged once I get to the embassy in Kingston and begin interviewing people who want to come to the US for any number of reasons.

Training at the Foreign Service training institute gives me an opportunity to meet colleagues and share experiences, to get a plethora of opinions, useful hints, impressions on countries and Foreign Affairs life and practice. All Foreign Service Officers pass through FSI now and again - some are training for their first assignment, like me, some are coming back to the USA for the first time in 8 years to get a little training so they can go out and do it again. Talking to these veterans is often one of the most useful and most interesting part of a day.

However, a great piece of advice I got from a more seasoned colleague: no two officers have the same experience nor the same point of view, so be careful making any decisions or forming any expectations based on the stories of one person.

I have come to believe that immigration is one of the things that makes the United States a great country. Restricting the flow of smart and ambitious people that want to come to this country to build their home and life will strangle off one of the US's greatest comparative advantages.

I was struck, however, by the candor of a conversation I had with a colleague who had worked as a Consular Officer in a country where, like Jamaica, there are a large number of applicants for both Immigrant and Non Immigrant  Visas as well as a high occurrence of fraud in these Visa applications. No matter how liberal your views on immigration, this person told me, by the time you finish 12 months of interviewing 50 or more people a day, you are going to feel differently. Having people lie to you, over and over and over, the person said, wears you down, adding that many people have no respect for you as a representative of the United States or the legal process for the immigration process.

I am eager to get to Kingston and to have my ideals challenged. I am sure that there are people out there who will lie because they think it will increase their chances of making it into the US. Other, perhaps more optimistic Officers, have told me that people do often fudge the truth in their applications and their interviews, but more often than not it is because they simply do not fully understand the process or realize that the truth does not necessarily disqualify them for a visa.

However, whether I like it or not, it is my responsibility to realize that there are people who want to move across national borders in order to commit crimes or hurt other people. There is a lot of money to be made from moving drugs, for example, to the US. And of course, in a worse case scenario, there are people like the nefarious underwear bomber who boarded a US bound plane on a valid visa.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Chapter 3, where our hero meets the people and learns the words

Chapter one in the memoirs of a Foreign Service Officer usually chronicles the ridiculously long and tedious process of simply getting in, from the Written Test to each painful step to finally "getting off the register" and being placed in an incoming class. Chapter two is usually the now five week orientation training (still called A-100 after the original classroom). It is a shared experience, everyone goes through it, and it helps you establish a core group of colleagues and friends, a small tribe within the larger State Department, that can march together through their careers that inevitably diverge after A-100. I, and 92 other new FSO's, are members of the "Legendary 152nd" class, indeed, the 152nd class of new recruits to receive this training since they started the new counting system some twenty or so years ago.

The current chapter is for training, learning. We are all taking classes and consulting with people that are relevant to our specific jobs in the specific countries we are to go to.

I finished my Consular Officer training last week, and next week I start training as a Labor Officer at the Foreign Service Institute, giving me time this week for "consultations" and errand running. Aside from getting my new black U.S. passport, applying for my Jamaican visa, and booking travel from DC to Kingston, I also have an opportunity to schedule meetings with the people working here in Washington that form the backbone of support I will rely on when I do my job in Kingston.

For every issue that I may run across on the job in Jamaica - a case of child abduction, reporting on a labor dispute between a union and a large mining company, the Jamaican Government's deal with the IMF, a convicted drug smuggler applying for a tourist visa to "visit Disney World..." there is probably someone that works specifically with that issue back here at the State Department or one of the other agencies.

Getting out of the classroom and actually meeting these people, learning the words they use and seeing the way they communicate, within their own office and with posts around the world, is without a doubt very valuable. I have a feeling that I will appreciate everything I do now to reduce the learning curve once I get to post, where I will undoubtedly need to "drink water from a fire hose," as people like to say around here.  These people teach me the parlance, they know the context and the hot topics, they are familiar with the personalities that play important roles.

Interestingly, they each welcome me into their respective little empires as if I am a new member of their family, eager to be excited for me as they recall the excitements, turmoils, challenges and adventures of their first assignments. The sense of teamwork and camaraderie in the Foreign Service are powerful forces.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

History of the World: Condensed Version

Each speaker introduced to my two week Western Hemisphere Intense Area Studies course begins the same way: "today we have an impossible task." This two week class at the Foreign Service Institute, an impressive campus yet easy to miss on an uninspiring stretch of Arlington Boulevard, is meant to illuminate the past six hundred years of the Western Hemisphere (South and Central America, the Caribbean) and how that sets the stage for the current status of the U.S.'s relationships.

Impossible, indeed.

The U.S. government sends employees to FSI to give to teach them specific skills or give them specific knowledge that will help them do their jobs. People come from a number of agencies, such at the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, and C0mmerce, but mostly from the State Department. In our globalized/globalizing world of interdependencies, no government is an island (though some might like to think they are), and every forward looking government institution has people that deal with bilaterally with other governments, multi-laterally with international organizations, and regionally or globally on specific issues.

Despite the seemingly impossible goal of this course, after one week I am utterly astounded by the amount of information and contextual nuance that has been crammed through my eyes and ears. If I and my colleagues are expected to survive "drinking from a fire hose," it is a demand that most seem to swallow with good humor. The caliber of each presenter makes me feel both insignificant and fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from people considered experts. Not only have I learned about the multiple factors contributing to the downfall, devastation and enslavement of America's indigenous populations, I also have a basic understanding of Iran's relationship with Venezuela's leadership and Venezuela's influence on the Andean region, and how fluctuations in the price of oil affect political movements and the sustainability of local food production.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Washington DC: 1.14.2010

The pillars of our democracy. The pillars of the financial system. A pillar of one's faith. The District of Columbia is full of pillars (though many of the marble ones have been replaced by concrete over the years). In more than one unfortunate case, of course, the pillars are holding up a very porous roof, and, despite the grand show of strength, we all wind up getting soaked by the rain once in a while...

Today's adventure in world affairs, in this case international development and global economics:

In the game of being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing, knowledge is power. And in the seemingly purposely unnavigable corridors of DC's many institutions, making your way through a bureaucracy to find the right information is both an art and a science.


I am currently helping to manage a project in Angola, one of the poorer countries in Africa. Angola only recently emerged from years of horrid conflict, the roots of which might be blamed on the country's unchosen role as a pawn in cold war conflicts. The project focuses on assisting rural farmers (most of the country's workforce is in small scale agriculture, and the food security of the country relies heavily on it) increase their capacity to get bigger yields of higher quality crops.

One huge challenge faced by these farmers is difficulty obtaining quality agricultural inputs. Many of them, fertilizers, seeds, etc need to be imported from other countries. In order to find the best place to get the best products, the project is researching where imports into Angola are currently coming from, and the prices of those commodities. A wonderful resource for information on the global movement of agricultural products and commodities is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through their Foreign Agricultural Services. The USDA has a contract with the international market research firm GTIS, but the information provided to the Department is proprietary - though they do make it available to certain non profit organizations and cooperatives. My search started with a round of emails to agricultural experts on the ground of Angola, and has thus far led me to a number of economists in an office just down the street from me at the USDA.

Information is yet unobtained... but we are close.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Washington, DC: 1.11.2010

Washington, DC, where a strong January wind forces faces under scarves, pleasing the Northerners and torturing the Southerners. For indeed, The District is a city of immigrants like few others, as people come from all over the country and the world because they feel strongly about an issue, are very good at something, have an agenda, or just want to be a part of decisions that change lives.

The city embraces different arrivals in different ways, and the city they find can be very different for each of them. For every granite pillar, fine restaurant, and marble staircase there is a potholed street, misplaced wisdoms, a hungry family.

The District can be a very manageable Metropolitan area, with one of the nation's most efficient subways that allows for a relatively painless commute from isolated suburbs to off.

Also in Washington is a parallel universe, with those chosen few manipulating the cerebral cortex of many of the most consequential neural flows that alter the path of human history on a daily basis. For them, this city is a city of intrigue, of danger, big gains and big losses. It is, for the best, a chance to make a difference in an issue one cares about. At its worst, one can lose touch with the real life implications of the decisions being made. A sort of intellectual isolation can lead decision makers to a hypothetical world of political gamesmanship.

I exist somewhere in between. Information and money flows through my office on New York Ave, and across my desk, to countries around the globe, though my role is small.