Friday, January 28, 2011

Eye Candy

There have been pervasive rumors in Port-au-Prince this week that we'll be getting a high-level visitor in the near future. It was confirmed this morning and recently released to the press: Secretary Clinton will be coming on Sunday!

This is obviously very exciting - sort of akin to a Bono visit for American diplomats - but even more exciting is that I was one of the officers chosen to work the visit. And, as if it couldn't get any better, I'll be working with my A-100 tandem, John.

John and I were in the same Foreign Service entrance class (known as A-100), becoming fast friends. Our class dubbed us "A-100 tandems" and the name stuck - even more so when we were both assigned to Port-au-Prince. Our bromance has continued and we sit in adjoining desks in the Consular Section.

The visit will certainly be a lot of work - and the Secretary's only on the ground for a few hours - but John and I will be essentially in-charge of one of her stops during her visit. Definitely lots of responsibility and pressure (we've been advised to have LOTS of paper clips on hand for wardrobe malfunctions), but a really amazing experience and we're both very lucky to be working such a high-level visit within our first year at Post.

I'm sure I'll have more to say after the weekend is over, right now we're finishing our normal work and getting ready to move into Site Officer mode - spending the weekend planning, prepping and meeting. Not to mention a party my apartment building is throwing for the entire Embassy on Saturday night.

And I'm sure there are skeptics among you asking why John and I were picked for this job, I could certainly argue for our quick thinking on our feet, vast knowledge of US-Haitian relations, and our informed opinions on US Foreign Policy. But I think those all come after the obvious - eye candy for the cameras.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Down, but not out

(I promise, this post can be read with no bathroom breaks needed)

Probably one of the most interesting experiences about living abroad is seeing the way in which your adoptive country is portrayed by your home country. In this case, the way Haiti is portrayed in the American media.

Certainly, a critique on this subject could fill books - and probably has - but what motived me to write today were recent headlines I've seen in American (and other international) media calling the situation in Haiti "hopeless". Now, don't get me wrong - there are certainly challenges in this country that, at times, seem insurmountable. Public health, politics, education, brain drain, economy, violence - just a few problem areas in Haiti.

Yet - hopeless? It just seems like the Haitians are doomed to failure before they even have a chance to tackle these challenges. I recognize that we live sheltered lives in this country and that somewhere, at all times, parents are choosing which of their children will get to eat the meal that cannot be split among all.

However, facing these obstacles - life goes on.

Each morning, children still go to school. Haitians get up, get dressed, and battle traffic to get to work. The airport, seaport, customs and immigration zones at the borders all open. Merchants set-up shops on the sides of the street. Police patrol, alongside the UN, and direct traffic. It all feels very...normal.

And what I guess I can't imagine is, how it would feel for a third country to call the situation in my own country "hopeless." Certainly, the US government (read: taxpayer) has invested incredible amounts of money here - as have governments and NGOs from around the world. But does that give us the right to deem the future of an entire nation - one that we've probably never visited - devoid of hope?

The demographics in this country are startling - the median age is 20 years old. 40% of the country is under 14. But it is exactly for this reason that, I believe, there is hope for Haiti. And as long as people continue to get-up each morning, to dress and feed their children for school, to work and talk and laugh and live - then there is hope.

Life is certainly not easy in this country, and there are many issues that haven't even begun to be addressed, but I give credit to the strength of the Haitian people - who continue to live their lives in spite of the challenges, working to build a better future they know their children deserve. And that, in my mind, is what it means to have hope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Just when you thought it couldn't get any crazier...

The usual apologies for lack of blog maintenance, it's been busy here. Rather than continue to grovel, let's get started with the update. This one's going to be a bit more intellectual (read: longer), so grab a beer and get comfortable.

Before I really begin, let me give the standard disclaimer that the following is my opinion only and in no way represents that opinions or beliefs of the US Government. Phew.

The past few months in Haitian politics (well, decades really) have played out as part Telemundo soap opera, part West Wing Episode, and part "you couldn't make this up if you tried." In order to try and explain recent events in the most cohesive way, let's lay out some facts:

The Players
Rene Preval - (Wikipedia) - The outgoing Haitian President
Jean-Claude Duvalier aka "Baby Doc" - (Wikipedia) - Haitan ruler/dictator from 1971 until he was exiled in 1986.
Jude Celestin - 2010 Presidential Candidate from Government-supported Party, a former mid-level government bureaucrat
Mirlande Manigat - 2010 Presidential Candidate, Constitutional Scholar and briefly Former Haitian First Lady
Michel Martelly aka "Sweet Micky" - 2010 Presidential Candidate, wildly popular Haitian musician

Though this story starts a long time ago, for our purposes, lets start with November 2010. The lead-up to Haiti's 2010 Presidential Election was certainly interesting, with many twists and turns (including the well-publicized saga of Wyclef Jean's failed attempt to make the ballot) but, on election day, 19 candidates appeared on the Presidential ballot. The front-runners were widely considered to the Manigat, Celestin and Martelly - but there was much dispute as to the split between those three.

The pervasive fear among many was that one candidate would attempt to commit massive fraud in order to "steal" the election, and so an international effort was put forward to help coordinate and oversee the execution of the will of the Haitian people. I was lucky to be part of that effort and, with thousands of other observers, from the Embassy as well as Haitian and International NGOs, went out into the country to observe the balloting. 

You can imagine how hard it is to run an election in a country with rampant illiteracy, poverty, geographically remote towns/villages, a heavily armed and uneducated population - not to mention billions of dollars of reconstruction money at stake as well as a raging cholera epidemic. For reference, see Florida 2000. Needless to say, the day was fraught with violence and a mid-afternoon call from 12 candidates (including Martelly and Manigat, but not Celestin) to annul the results of the election due to fraud. 

Nevertheless, the international community and Haitian government largely remained hopeful that the fraud was not rampant and the vote tallying could continue. In the end, both Manigat and Martelly both backed-down and agreed to await the final results (no doubt believing that they had done well). International observer teams also reported back their information findings to compare with the official results - which are released and certified by the CEP (Provisional Electoral Council), a committee appointed by the President.

In the run-up to the release of the results in early December, most international and domestic observers slowly leaked their findings that the two winners of the election (if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in the first round, the top two candidates go head-to-head in a second round) were Manigat and Martelly. So, you can imagine everyone's surprise when the CEP announced that it was Manigat and Celestin who would be advancing into the second round.

Let me back-up for a moment and say that, from my perspective, until this point in time, President Preval had been neither an incredibly liked, nor disliked, political figure. Widely regarded as a back-stage player, rather than a great presence/orator, Preval had been accused of being absent after the Earthquake but most agreed that he would be the first Haitian President in decades to be able to retire in Haiti.

Now, back to our story. The release of the CEP results immediately results in violence in the streets of Port-au-Prince, as well as other cities/towns. Supporters of Martelly pour into the streets - lighting barricades and tires on fire, throwing rocks at cars, shooting in the air, and just generally causing disruptions. They then are met by Celestin supporters who are heavily armed and the situation deteriorates. We, Embassy employees spent those 5 days on lockdown in our residences - Haitian snow days if you will. 

Now, never one to espouse violence, I do feel that for the Haitian people, violence may have been the natural choice. Over a million people are still living in tents, many spent weeks working to obtain the correct national identity documents to be eligible to vote, then spent all day trying to find the correct voting center using outdated lists and information, all to cast their vote in what was essentially, in their minds, an election which was stolen. Without a real voice, turning to violence was an understandable option in order to make themselves heard by a government that had failed them.

During this time, there is incredible political wrangling going on - with some candidates calling for an annulment of the results, only to change their mind the same day and agree to continue but only if other candidates were completely eliminated from the contest. In my opinion, every candidate probably committed some fraud - if only to play defense against the fraud they assumed their opponents were committing. However, from the evidence I've seen, it's pretty clear that Celestin did not have the popular support to make it to the second round on his own.

Celestin, being the government supported candidate from the same party as the President, is quickly linked to Preval and the vitriol spreads, effectively ruining Preval's reputation in-country. Under heavy international pressure, Preval agreed to invite an international review of the election results as a way to stem the ongoing crisis in the streets. The parties agree that the review will be conducted by the OAS (Organization of American States) as a neutral arbiter. 

This agreement is reached in the days before Christmas and is what allowed me to leave Haiti for a vacation in the US (American Airlines having previously cancelled all flights to Port-au-Prince) - a Christmas miracle from the CEP for a young Jewish guy. I returned to a very anxious Haiti in early January - awaiting both the release of the OAS report and the first anniversary of the January 12th earthquake.

In the days immediately before the anniversary, the OAS announces that they have completed their review and, on January 10, the results are leaked to the press - the OAS has concluded that Manigat and Martelly should move forward, leaving Celestin out of the second round. However, Preval refuses to meet with the OAS for days - he claims out of respect for victims of the earthquake but many observers fearing that he was simply stalling. Finally, on January 13, Preval agrees to a meeting with the OAS where he receives their recommendation.

In theory, Preval then passes the recommendation to the CEP and everyone waits for the announcement of the decision as to whether or not the CEP will accept or reject the OAS recommendation. I headed out of town this weekend with some friends (the Embassy was closed yesterday) and on Sunday night, we began to get reports that Jean-Claude Duvalier was returning to Haiti on a flight from Guadelope. Haitian society seems to operate on rumors so we were hesitant, but as the night went on, it became clear that he had, in fact, landed at the airport.

Let's talk for a minute about Duvalier. "Baby Doc," as he's known, took over rule of the country upon his father's death, when he was just 19 years old. Though his rule in Haiti was widely seen as better than that of his father, most historians agree that Baby Doc continued to rule with an iron fist - killing and torturing those who disagreed with him or stood in his way and living an incredibly lavish lifestyle while Haitians sunk deeper and deeper into oppressive poverty. There are obviously those who dispute this and place some blame on others, but regardless, Baby Doc, in the face of rising pressure from Haitians, fled the country into self-imposed exile in France.

At the time, Baby Doc was widely reviled in Haiti - not only for his oppressive policies, but also for the accusation that he took millions of dollars in government funds with him when he fled. However, over the past 20 years as successive governments have been unable to get this country back on it's feet, there has been a rise in nostalgia for the Duvalier period. In my mind, this is a comment on two things primarily; the failure of the past 20+ years of governance in Haiti and, the reality that the median age in this country is 20 years old - a huge percentage having been born after Duvalier left power with no memory of those years other than stories passed down.

So, just when it looked like Preval and the CEP were going to accept the OAS recommendation (and as we braced for violence, Celestin having reportedly paid $20mil to arm supporters, though just a rumor), Duvalier returns to Haiti on an expired diplomatic passport and takes up shelter in a hotel with his entourage.

Today, the drama unfolded in real-time as Duvalier was taken from his hotel in a police SUV to the courthouse after having met with a chief prosecutor and police chief. At this point, all is still conjecture, but there are a number of theories competing for top spot. Duvalier looks visibly weak and frail, leading some to conclude that he returned to Haiti in order to die with his people. Others argue that it was everyone from the US to France to Preval to Martelly who brought Duvalier back for political gain. Some claim that this is just a precursor to the return of Jean Bertrand Aristide, another exiled Haitian leader currently living in South Africa (although recently rumored to be waiting in Panama for the all-clear to return to Haiti). And finally, some say that Duvalier was moved by the earthquake memorials and wanted to return to his country.

Whatever the case, it appears that there is no warrant out for Duvalier's arrest - though individuals have threatened to file charges against him and there are now claims that he will be arraigned on government charges from his rule in Haiti. Preval previously stated, in 2007, that Duvalier was welcome to return but would have to face charges stemming from his rule.

Whatever the case, the question remains: Why now, after 25 years in exile, did Duvalier return now?

From there, a million more questions exist, but we'll just have to wait and see. All I know is that every time I think I have some handle on this country, its leaders and the political system - I am absolutely shocked by what happens next.

I hope you enjoyed the tour through Haitian political history, hopefully more to come as this plays out...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dodged a Bullet

Hey all,

As promised - I'm writing to let you all know that I'm safe and sound on the other side of the storm. In reality, Tomas brought a lot of rain, but not nearly as much as was predicted for Port-au-Prince. Certain parts of the country, specifically the southwest, were hit much harder - but luckily those areas are much less heavily populated than the capitol.

Working at the Embassy through the storm was a fun/interesting experience - if quiet. I spent most of the day surfing the net and eating Halloween oreos. However, lessons learned from the earthquake - it's much, much better to be safe than sorry.

Alright, I'm off to start the weekend routine. A fun update coming this weekend, I promise!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tropical Storm Tomas

Hey all,

I know this blog hasn't been updated in about forever, so sorry to use this occasion to do so (plug: MORE FUN UPDATES COMING!) but I figured this would be the easiest way to let everyone know that I am safe, sound and well protected in advance of the storm.

Plans have been made to move essential Embassy employees to our housing compound near the Embassy and I'll be working through the night on an Emergency Task Force at the Embassy. Needless to say, I'll be fine and well protected. Communications might go down for a bit depending on the severity of the storm, so I wanted to get this message out now.

All of us on the Task Force will be working hard over the next few days to help both Haitians and Americans in Haiti stay safe and get any help they need. Please keep the hundreds of thousands of Haitians still in tents in your thoughts - though I am fortunate to have a safe place to go this weekend, many of them do not.

I promise to update as soon as the storm passes and we have internet access. Here's hoping Tomas will turn West.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Paradise, Found.

Disclaimer: Started this update last week but it took forever to upload the photos - sorry it's a bit dated...


Let me begin with the usual apologies for my lack of updates - life continues to be very busy and fun,
making finding the time to blog a challenge. I'm working on getting better, I promise.

I just returned from an amazing Labor Day Weekend - so here's the update:

Knowing that we had a 3-day weekend, some friends from the Embassy and I decided that we wanted to head out-of-town on some type of adventure. We settled on Ile a Vache (literally, Island of the Cows) - off the southern coast of Haiti. Map here:

I immediately took on the role of group organizer, or cruise director as I was (sometimes) affectionately known, and our small group of 8 people eventually turned into 21.

So, early on Saturday morning, our convoy of 6 SUVs set out from Port-au-Prince headed south to Les Cayes. Getting out of PAP was, as always, a challenge - but once through the city and out the other side, the road opens up and one really gets a sense of the amazing topography of this country. It was about a 4.5 hour drive to Les Cayes - first through the mountains and then along the coast. I rode shotgun in my friend Blake and Sara's car - and we, along with their dog Oakley - held up the rear of the convoy. We ate snacks, played trivial pursuit, laughed a lot and marveled at the beautiful countryside. For once, I'll let some pictures do the talking:

Your standard Haitian 18-Wheeler - you'll notice the live sheep hanging on the side
Mountains outside of Port-au-Prince
Lush vegetation coming into the southern coast 
The six-car convoy

After spending the morning in the car, with frequent bathroom breaks, we arrived in Les Cayes at around 1 in the afternoon. Having no idea where we were going, we drove through the city - a very neat city, by the way - making frequent u-turns, which are always interesting with 6-cars on a market day. Anyway, we eventually made it to the dock where two Boston Whalers were waiting to take us and our stuff over to Ile a Vache.

Just as we were leaving Les Cayes, the sky grew black and it started to thunder and lightning in the distance - I think we were all wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. But, after a quick 30-minute boat ride, all of our fears were assuaged as we approached the island - sun still shining.

We pulled-up to the dock at the resort and were immediately greeted with rum punch as our bags were unloaded. Vacation had begun.

Ile a Vache as two resorts, Port Morgan and Abaka Bay. We chose the latter and I could not have been happier with our decision. The resort was located directly on the water - my room had a deck and then you stepped right down to the sand. In addition to the rooms, there was also a bar, outdoor and indoor dining area, and a sort of recreational space - all-in-all perfect for a weekend getaway.

The next two days were spent eating amazing food, drinking rum punches and Prestige (the Haitian beer), relaxing, playing soccer/frisbee/volleyball, kayaking and hiking. Ile a Vache is the quintessential Caribbean island - with 2 resorts, a swamp area, deserted beaches, a few mountains, a very picturesque town and lots of neat caves for exploring. Not to mention a sunken pirate ship. Again, I could go into much more, but the photos can do the talking:

Our own private cove

Traditional fishing boat for our meals
Abaka Bay on the left and our cove - taken from our hike across the island
Looking across the island from the top of the hill
Beautiful house overlooking the ocean
Looking out over the harbor from the town, resort pet included.
Church on the water
Fishing boats in the town
The beach at Abaka Bay
View from the deck of our room
And again (no special effects, just a standard photo)
The dock - my favorite photo
Looking back at the resort from the dock
Yours truly - looking graceful as always
 Unfortunately, after 2 amazing days it was time to head back to real life. We divided up into an "early boat" and a "late boat" for the departure. If you know anything about me, you'll know which boat I was on.

Our significantly smaller convoy - 3 cars this time - left Les Cayes around 2:30pm for the drive back, stopping at an old French fort on the way home:

The fort at the end of a peninsula - begging to be explored 
View from inside the fort
Driving back through the mountains on the new road
We arrived back in Port-au-Prince around 7:30pm and I'm proud to say I drove my friend's car the entire way home - an introduction to Haitian driving (just in time for my new car...stay tuned for that update).

There's so much more to say about the weekend but I hope this begins to give you some idea. I really am falling in love with this country and the people - as you can see, with just a little patience there isn't much not to love.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A day in the life...

So, I just spent about an hour writing my first long update about my day job and accidentally deleted the entire thing. Lesson learned: save often. Okay, beer me, here we go again...

I promised in my first novel-length email update (that each one of you read with hawk-like intensity) that I would spend this update talking about my job - you know, the reason I'm in Haiti - so without further ado:

5:47am. "Soothing" alarm on the Blackberry. Let's be honest - there's nothing soothing about 5:47am. After rolling around and moaning for a few minutes, I'm up. Showered, shaved and dressed in big boy clothes (no more jeans and polo shirts, it's suit and tie everyday folks), I'm out the door, usually running, by 6:28am and into the waiting Suburban. As you know, there are 6 apartments in my building - 5 of which are currently occupied - so we have our own dedicated Suburban for the 25-minute morning commute to the Embassy. We pass the time telling stories, sharing weekend/evening adventures, or silently catching-up on emails - depending on moods.

Baring any major disruption - ie cattle on the road causing traffic chaos - we're at the Embassy around 6:55am and I'm at my desk by 7am. After dropping stuff and logging into the computer, my first stop is the cafeteria.

I love breakfast. I especially love breakfast here mostly owing to the bacon, egg and cheese baguette. It's pretty much how it sounds - a deliciously gooey, crunchy, greasy combination on a baguette. I've learned the hard way that eating an entire one will cause paralysis and the need to assume the fetal position under-desk by 8:30am. Thus, it's either split or half saved for later. Don't worry - I still cover my portion in hot sauce and ketchup. Luckily for my waistline, our cafeteria also has some pretty great oatmeal that they make in a huge kettle, so I've learned to alternate mornings. A fruit salad is thrown in every once-in-a-while for good measure. I will say, however, that I've sweet-talked the lovely cafeteria ladies, using my off-the-chain creole skills, into putting tomato into my bacon, egg and cheese baguette and blending fruits (usually banana or mango) into my oatmeal - no small feat and special additions usually reserved only for the very best Haitian customers. Lunch ladies and I have always shared a special bond.

Armed with my breakfast of choice and HUGE cup of coffee, I'm ready to take on the day. I usually take breakfast to my desk, using the time catch-up on any outstanding issues or emails, and take my chosen spot on "the line" a little before 8am. Our office is a huge rectangle with offices around 3 sides and one long wall of windows (38, I think), with cubes in the middle. The room is divided between NIV (Non-Immigrant Visas), IV (Immigrant Visas) and ACS (American Citizen Services). My section, NIV, takes approximately 15 windows (5 for Officers, 10 for Foreign Service Nationals, FSNs) and the cubes/offices behind those windows. My own goal is to be at the window and open for business by 8am.

I should take a moment to describe the visa process from the applicant's point of view, I'll try to make it quick and dirty:

1) Applicant fills out online visa application form. Port-au-Prince recently transferred from paper to electronic applications and, though there have been some headaches, the process has certainly streamlined our end. After submitting the form, the applicant prints out a barcoded "receipt" to bring with them to the Embassy.
2) After submitting the application, the applicant is able to use our online tool to schedule their interview day. Our goal is to reduce "wait time" to a minimum - that is, time of completing application to first available appointment time, but that obvious varies based on number of applicants and number of officers interviewing.
3) Applicant goes to a local branch of a Haitian bank to pay the application fee - currently $140 (a huge sum here and an automatic filter for types of applicants than can even afford to apply). The money is deposited into a State Dept account and the applicant is given a receipt to bring with them as proof of payment.
4) On their assigned day, applicants stream into the Embassy from all over the country - usually starting at the crack of dawn. They are screened by security and let into our waiting room.
5) Applicants are called, one-by-one, to an FSN window where their barcode is scanned, application information and proof of payment verified, fingerprinted and have their pictures taken (if they haven't uploaded them digitally).
6) After this, they line-up for a chance to see yours truly.

Once I start at the window, I call applicants up one-by-one, or in family groups, to my window. I scan their barcode and use a scanner to verify one finger - then begin the interview. This is crux of my current job in the Embassy.

Essentially, we are doing a number of things simultaneously in the interview. Since these are non-immigrant visas, one of our major jobs is to ensure that each applicant, to the best of our knowledge, will return to Haiti after their trip to the US. In fact, the way the law is written, the burden is on each applicant to prove that they will, in fact, return to their home country and we are to assume that every applicant is an intending immigrant unless they prove otherwise (more info: As you can imagine, this is highly specialized depending on each case and is, in most cases, nearly impossible to tell with 100% certainty that a person will come back.

Again, it is highly individualized, but there are certain patterns we look for to help - including family and economic ties to Haiti, previous travel, ties to the United States, etc. But at the end of the day, it's largely based on our own analysis of the applicant's situation and our belief that they will, or will not, return to the US. For example, a subsistance farmer with barely enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to Miami is probably not going to be able/likely to stay in a hotel for 2 weeks and return to Haiti. But likewise, a very wealthy Haitian with their entire family in the US might also have very little reason to return to return after their stay in the US is done. Everything is fluid and we see everything. Everything. The standard question I usually have running in my head as a barometer - does this story make sense?

The other important thing to keep in mind is that we are doing this for a reason. They could have a computer process all the documents and issue or refuse the visa. The idea is that, though we are certainly not always perfect, we can add a human dimension - either compassion or intellect - that will hopefully provide an extra layer of security as well as more human view of each application.

However, that is just one of the things we're responsible for evaluating. In addition to their immigrant intent, we also are evaluating if they have, or potentially could, commit a crime in the US. We need to verify that they haven't previously broken any US laws, immigration or otherwise. Are they traveling to the US under false pretenses - for example as a tourist but with the real intention of enrolling in public school? Do we have any reason to believe they could be a threat to the US? Are they applying using fake documents? These are just a few of the things we're checking for...

AND, we're verifying and checking all of the documents they've submitted electronically and brought in hard copy - bank documents, marriage and birth certificates, previous passports and visas, job letters, etc - while simultaneously speaking with the applicants in creole or french, taking notes in english, and trying to make a decision in the neighborhood of 2 minutes per applicant. It's a rush.

As I'm currently the only full-time officer on the line, the others are TDY (temporary officers on loan from other Embassies), and since I have the language training (the others are doing their interviews in translation with the help of FSNs) I'm doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 interviews/day. In total, we usually see somewhere between 200-250 applicants/day at the Embassy.

After an exhausting morning, I'm usually off "the line" between 12-1pm - whenever the last applicant is interviewed for the day. Then, the rest of my day is free, which is a great feeling. I usually get back to my desk, catch-up on emails, grab lunch with colleagues or eat at my desk depending on my workload, and start the desk-work.

Well - what would a DiBiase update be without another mention of food. Our cafeteria turns out some pretty delicious lunch food as well - there are 2 hot entrees to choose from, some type of rice, a vegetable, and fried plantains that is the standard fare for about $5. It's way more than I can, or should, eat in one sitting. In addition, there's all kinds of pizza, hamburgers, chicken/fish burgers, soup, salad bar, etc. There's also a restaurant between our compound and the UN compound that serves a bit more upscale fare with a cool vibe and a huge buffet across the street that I've yet to try. Needless to say, I'm not starving.

After lunch, I work on any background info that needs done on my cases - investigating suspicious stories/documents, verifying my applicants against various databases that check biographic info, fingerprints, facial recognition, etc.

In addition, we all have projects in our portfolios that we use this time to complete. Never one to be called an underachiever, I've already taken control of Consular Outreach (getting outside of PAP to Americans/Haitians who need our services), Post Language (language training for FSOs and their families), Consular Happy Hours and I was just elected to fill the Secretary vacancy on the American Employees' Association at the Embassy (shocking). Again needless to say, there's plenty to fill the afternoon.

We're officially done at 3:30pm and there's a shuttle that leaves at that time - so most people clear out. I usually finish sometime between 3:30pm-4pm, depending on how long I was on the line and my workload for the afternoon. Then it's off to the gym or pool for a workout and I'm on the 5pm shuttle home. Traffic is much worse at night, but I can generally be home in 30-35 minutes, but it has taken longer than an hour - all dependent on traffic.

At home, I change out of my workout clothes, unpack my work clothes - and either settle in with a book/movie, invite friends over or go to a friend's house for dinner, or head out to meet friends at a restaurant. Tonight, I settled in, ate some of Odeline's (you'll meet her in the next update) quiche and salad, drank some wine, wrote this update, took a break to hang out with some friends upstairs, and am already getting tired.

I'm usually in bed sometime around 10pm, ready to start the next day all over again at 5:47am.

Well, I think this update might even be longer than the last, but at least it's not taking up space in your inbox. Read at your leisure and let me know what you think! Even though I'm terrible at getting back to people, I love to hear from everyone and what you're up to. Hopefully this gave you a good idea of my weekdays here in PAP - weekends are a whole different animal, but that's another update.

Ciao for now.