Dear Consular Chief . . . .

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The first thing that I thought after I read about the Ryan Lochte Incident in Brazil during the Olympics probably wasn’t what most Americans were thinking (although that was probably my second reaction).  What popped into my mind first was, “Ugh, I feel sorry for the consular officers in Rio.”  Because I’ve seen enough mess go down in the last 18 years that I know it sucks to have any AmCit in trouble, but when it’s a public figure or other celebrity, it’s even more excruciating with respect to time invested, red tape to unstick, and embarrassment.  I mean seriously, dude – do you realize that the length of text on your Wikipedia page discussing your false police report is longer than the text discussing your Olympic success at Rio 2016?

Later on, I got to thinking, and I wondered:  Did Ryan Lochte ever even apologize?  Did he realize the impact he had on other people’s lives?  Not just the direct impact of the people involved in the incident, but the ones who were left behind to deal with the ramifications of his behavior, even after he was long gone and the Olympic torch had dimmed?  Probably not.  After all, it’s hardly on anyone’s radar until they need help abroad and turn to “lawyers, guns, and money” and the consular officers step in.  So why would it be on the radar of someone who had other people who dealt with the “other people”.  It wouldn’t.

Still, if Ryan Lochte deigned to write a letter, it really should read something like this:

Ryan Lochte, U.S. Swimmer, Lane 3, U.S. Swimming Training Center

August 20, 2016

The Consular Chief, American Consulate General Rio de Janiero, Av. Pres. Wilson, 147, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, 20030-020, Brazil

Dear Sir or Madam,

Please accept my most sincere apologies for the incident that happened in Rio on August 14, 2016. My teammates and I had been out drinking, and while that in an of itself isn’t a problem, some of us had been drinking a bit too much, and our judgment was impaired.

Because of that, we made some bad choices. I truly am embarrassed at my actions and am grateful to you and your staff for your assistance in helping clear up this matter.

Oh, fuck it. That’s what my agent and PR dude is telling me to say.

Here’s what I should be saying to you:

I’m a moron. I’m 32 years old, and I really should not have been drinking like a 14-year-old who laid waste to his parent’s liquor cabinet. Moreover, I should not have run off like a coward, leaving my less-famous buddies behind to take the public embarrassment and the heat of having to sit with you and your staff for hours while trying to get them to tell you the whole story. I’m sure you had more than one very painful conversation with the police, probably several, as you worked your way up the chain of command, trying and figure out how best to resolve this situation. This would not have occurred if I were not such a self-absorbed ass.

I apologize for adding extra pressure and a headache to a time when you and your staff were already spread thinly enough with the increased workload due to the influx of American citizens and public officials coming through Rio during the Olympic Games. My stupidity kept you at the office even longer than usual, away from your families and your personal lives. While I know you take your work seriously, are dedicated, and are willing to put in the time you know you need to do the job right, you didn’t need to be dealing with my garbage. I know that you and your fellow diplomats keep your noses clean and act appropriately for two, three, or even four-year assignments, and I didn’t even hold it together for a few weeks. I’m an entitled jerk who didn’t think of anyone but himself.

I promise that if I get to the Summer Olympics in 2020, there will be no need for a special session discussing the possibility of Ryan Lochte needing a bailout during an All-Hands Consular Meeting. I also promise that I’ll donate some of the gratis tickets that the swim team gets to the Embassy there with the stipulation that they go to career Foreign Service officers and specialists and their families, and not to political appointees who might be in town or heading things up. I’ll even throw in a meet-and-greet for the families at the end of the games to say thank you.

For you and your staff, however, I can do no such thing as I have already departed Brazil, medals in hand and tail between my legs. Instead, I’ve had several bottles of Johnny Walker Blue bottled individually so that each one is valued at a very acceptable $24.99, and stays within the guidelines of the acceptable gift amount under the government ethics rules. Please enjoy them. I’ll be teetotaling for the foreseeable future.

Sincerely and apologetically,

Ryan Lochte, U.S. Olympic Medalist

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vaulted Aspirations

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Rio de Janeiro : India’s Dipa Karmakar performs on the vault during the artistic gymnastics women’s apparatus final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. Photo Credit:  AP/PTI(AP8_14_2016_000252B)

I really, really wanted Dipa Karmakar to win the women’s vault competition in the Rio 2016 Olympics.  I really did.

Given the hellish time difference between Rio and Mumbai, most of what I have watched was on YouTube.  I admit it.  Try as my tired, old self could, my bed just seemed so much more – exciting than most of the Olympics.  Sure, I like watching the swimmers just as much as anyone else, and the men’s synchronized diving team gives me palpitations, but after snippets of the opening ceremonies (Hello, Tonga!!), I just gave in and waited until the next morning’s paper told me who I should watch by googling highlights.

Except for one woman.

Dipa Karmakar, the first female Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, only the second Indian ever to qualify, and the first Indian to qualify in 52 years.  When she qualified for Rio, the papers went nuts, giving her front page headlines.  I was completely intrigued, and followed her in the media.  She’s not quite the usual gymnast – at almost five feet, she’s a bit on the taller side, and at 23 (her birthday was just a few days before the vault final) she’s a bit on the old side these days.

Dipa’s specialty is the vault, and she is only the third woman to land an extremely difficult move, the Produnova.  It’s wicked hard.

Watch her here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUVLSIZV_0U  It’s amazing.

Last night, the eve of India’s Independence Day, I stayed up until 11:20 p.m. to watch the gymnastics vault finals.  Dipa wasn’t the only gymnast to attempt the Produnova in Rio, a 41-year old gymnast representing Bulgaria who had medaled in London in 2012 was also ready to deliver it, but landed hard and added a sommersalt to her landing.  A few gymnasts later, Dipa took off and landed her first, easier vault, scoring a 14.866.  Solid, but not what we all were waiting for.  She then took off on her second vault, flying down the runway before flipping through the air.  She landed low, though, and the judges counted that bobble as a “fall”.  She still scored a 15.266, which gave her a combined score of 15.066 vaulting her into second place, behind Guilia Steingruber of Switzerland.

But the Big Kids were still to come.  Simone Biles, USA, and Maria Paeska, Russia, wound up taking first and second place, respectively, and Dipa was in medal-less fourth place.

I won’t begrudge the Swiss their medal – Guilia was good, and she’s physically a throwback to the old days of gymnasts – she’s not a waif, and she’s not a compact powerhouse.  If anything, she looks like a regular woman, and I don’t think you’d be clued in she’s a gymnast if you passed her on the street.  I kind of like that.  I also love Team USA, and Simone Biles is the most amazing gymnast I’ve seen, ever, so I have to say I’m thrilled she has gold.

But a medal by Dipa Karmakar would have meant SO much.  Gymnastics isn’t one of the sports you hear about, and even in Mumbai, a large metropolis, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you if, and where the gym is where the serious gymnasts go to train.  The money that is funneled into the sport here is in no way even close to what the U.S. and Russian teams put into it.  There is no way the gym she trains at and prepared at for Rio is anywhere near the U.S. National Team’s home gym.  So it seems to me that the fact that she was up front on the international stage going head-to-head with some of the most renowned names and well-sponsored gymnasts in the world was nothing short of amazing.

In a pretty dismal olympic showing by India this games, a woman earning a medal would have really made a statement.  It would have shown the nation that women’s athletics were something great.  That in beauty and grace there is strength, and national pride in women’s athletics.  The support for her, women’s athletics, and for the sport, would have followed, and potentially even planted the seeds for a national gymnastics program in preparation for a new generation of Indian gymnasts.  Even better, the headline would have hit on Indian Independence Day.  Jai Hind, indeed.

To be sure, she’s still amazing.  I’m still in awe.  She’s still going to inspire little girls all over India to turn even more cartwheels in their gymkhanas, and to climb higher on the monkey bars, and to try that penny drop.

But man, I wish that one athlete I didn’t mention fondly had tripped.  (Ooops – that was out loud?)

If they had given out medals for putting your heart and soul into it, Dipa would have swept the event.  Solid gold.

DipaHeart

Photo Credit: Indian Express

 

 

All About Hell – er – HOME Leave

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I loathe home leave. Well, not always. After six months back in India, I’m sure that I’ll wax nostalgic on the idea of it, if not the actual practice.

In its infinite wisdom, congress decided that in order to prevent its diplomats from sympathizing too much with the situation of whatever country they are posted in and “going native” or “going rogue”, that every so often, they would be have to come home and reorient themselves to life in the U.S. This fantastic concept, codified in Sections 901 and 903 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended, requires the diplomat to spend a minimum of twenty business days in the continental U.S. after each assignment abroad before heading back out, or after two years of a four-year tour.

I see some fellow diplomats posting fabulous photos of themselves on home leave, and they seem to relish it and do all kinds of awesome things. They also tend to be single, childless, and either come from intact families, or families where the divorce was Amicable. When some twenty-something, clearly single junior officer posted on Facebook that he thinks home leave can be fun and great and told me to just book a house on airbnb, I wanted to kick his unattached, millennial ass to Kingdom Come. Twice. Maybe even four times. I know he was trying to be upbeat and helpful, but FFS, dude, Get. A. Clue.

You might notice that thus far, this post has more than the normal amount of swearing in it, and I’ll get to that eventually. You’re on notice, Mom – I’ll probably drop an F-bomb or two before I’m done here.

Home leave and its mechanics are nothing if not predictable, so there are inevitably Certain Things That Happen Relating To or During Home Leave. Let me narrow that down to the top FIVE here:

  1. There will be some fucked-up regulation that makes you file extra paperwork or waste valuable time.

Turns out that when you extend and take a four-year tour overseas, the law requires you take your Home Leave midtour – which they define as within a month of arriving at post. Most families with children, like us, arrive in the July-August timeframe; especially if they have school-age children and they are dealing with camps, pack outs, and finishing up school (which is virtually NEVER compatible with the school they will start in the country they are moving to). We arrived on August 1, about ten days before school started, so DiploDad could leave the position he was vacating unfilled for as short of a time as possible (so the new guy could take HIS home leave) and so the DBs had a bit of time to shrug off the last vestiges of jet lag before starting school.

Fast-forward two years, and DiploDad has to take home leave. Given office staffing requirements (summer is, after all, a busy time for consular officers), a heavy rotation of folks in and out of the office, and the DBs’ school schedule, it made sense to take Home Leave in June and July. But nooooooooooo – that’s too early, the Department said.

DiploDad: I have to wait until August to take Home Leave? Seriously? No, you’re kidding. This makes absolutely no sense. My kids start back to school August 8th. I’ve got folks who have leave dates and transfer dates in, and I’m trying to work this for the least amount of disruption. There’s got to be something we can do about this.

Random DC Bureaucrat Who Never Goes Overseas: Well, you can leave your family behind. They don’t have to go. But you do. Or, you could just go early anyway, and lose an R&R.

DiploDad: Excuse me? You mean go by myself and leave my wife to deal with the kids alone at the beginning of the school year, or give up one of the tickets home that I get as part of my compensation? How is that reasonable?

RDCBWNGO: Alternatively, you could fill out a form for an exception to policy.

DiploDad: That sounds like a much better solution.

I should note that this conversation is condensed from about three or four separate conversations, because it took THAT long and THAT MANY conversations to get it out of RDCBWNGO that one could file for an exception. Asshat.

Attention AFSA (American Foreign Service Association for the uninitiated): The next time you get all crazy and decide that you need to lobby congress about something, let me flag this for you and even set it out in writing. Home leave should be given flexibility when taken mid-tour. Most officers with families will try to eventually get on summer cycle to make school and transition easier for DiploKids, which means that they will want to try and take home leave in the summer usually between mid-June and mid-August. Argue for a 60-90 day window of flexibility for Home Leave from the original date of arrival. Trust me, very, very, few people will skip it, the Department will have to process fewer exceptions, and it will be easier for HR folks. I suppose this may mean that a RDCBWNGO or two may be out of a job and have to find their sadistic “say-no-to-everything-not-be-helpful-ever” kicks elsewhere, but I’m sure there’s an office somewhere in DC hiring.

  1. There Will Be People Who Are A Pain in the Ass About Visiting Them, Whether You Can or Can’t Visit.

Once you get your dates and reservations, you send out the email to everyone in the family and try to alert friends. Some folks jump at it, and some it makes sense to visit because you have similar goals for the summer and they make it easy. Others, you go round and round with and nothing works out and they accept it, or you keep looking for chances to get together. Either way, in about a month, you’re fully booked. Let’s say this all happens about January.

You know where this is going now, right?

In April, you start getting emails and messages from a variety of family and friends asking if we could get together, and oh – when were we going to be in the country, and could we possibly drive to California/Nebraska/Texas/Alabama/Florida/Timbuktu to visit them?

Now, some folks get it and put no pressure on you. And if you possibly can, and are along the way or they are in your neck of the woods or willing to take the time to drive a bit, you get to see them and they are SO happy and you are BEYOND SO happy to see each other. I was lucky enough to see a former sorority sister this trip that I’d not seen in 20 years. One of the highlights this year was catching up with her. Others just know that if you CAN, you will definitely reach out to them, and so they don’t even ask, or just send you a message saying, “hey – we’ll be around this summer on these days, so if something works out, let me know – we’d love to get together” and that’s it. I love these kinds of people.

Then, there are the ones who not only pressure you to visit, but also insist it must be on their terms. They are often, but not always, the ones who never respond to the initial email/text/message where you gave dates you’d be in country. But two weeks into your trip, or a couple of days before you depart, you’re bound to get something like this in your inbox:

“Hi! If you guys can come over, it would be awesome. I’d love for you to drive to XXX (name town three hours from anywhere you’d be going normally, if ever) and spend some time, but only during the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday this month, and only if the temperature reads less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit between 9 and 10 a.m. Oh, and we’ll only be serving shredded wheat with bayberry juice because we’re all on a really restricted diet, and there will be NO WINE because we read somewhere that the prices are inflated this year because of drought in the Sahara and wages have gone up and we don’t support this.”

I wish I were kidding.

Let me be clear: I love my relatives. I love my friends. But we are travelling two days, going through security checkpoints twice, eating shitty plane food, getting DVT symptoms, and dealing with a bitch of a case of jet lag. By the time I landed at Dulles Airport in June, I’d been awake for 47.5 hours. You read that correctly. So, for the love of Peter, Paul, & Mary, please make it easy on us. We don’t really want to take a long plane ride again or drive 15 hours; it’s exhausting, and then we don’t really enjoy it at all. Ease off the guilt trip. If you think you might even be a tiny bit guilty of this, here’s what you do: when we send out the email telling you when we’ll be in town, jump into the queue immediately, and propose something halfway, or something near us, or, if we’re talking about doing X while we’re back, jump right on in and ask if we’re up for company. If we don’t want to go to Swaziland with you and want to go to Cape Verde instead, consider it – this is the only chance we have all year to escape the craziness of whatever post we’re at that means we GET a home leave. If it doesn’t work out, and our interests don’t align, you can always visit us, or we’ll try again next year.

If you think I’m being totally selfish about this, here’s a nugget for you – I’ve been trying to get to California and have a family trip driving Route 66 for four years now. We compromise. I lose out. And we try to put the grandparents first while they’re still around – for good reason.

  1. Even After It’s “Settled”, Something Else Will Pop Up and Try to Fuck Up Your Home Leave.

 

RDCBWNGO: Your home leave dates aren’t sufficient; you have to make a change.

DiploDad: Say again? I’m going for four weeks. Twenty weekdays.

RDCBWNGO: Yes, but the 4th of July is a holiday. You’ll have to stay longer and take an extra Monday.

DiploDad: Shit.

DiploDad said “shit” because that takes us over the 30 days of LWOP I’m allowed to take before permission has to be given by DC instead of post. And since we didn’t feel like finding out if that meant 30 calendar days or 30 business days, I just decided to go with the former and leave a week earlier than the DBs and DD. Which meant he had to take the DBs back by himself. (Hahahaha!)

  1. Some Relative or Friend Will Find a Passive-Aggressive Bullshit Way to “Punish” You for Living Abroad.

Towards the end of our Home Leave, we headed off to visit DiploMIL and her husband. They just bought a massive house, and we’ve been hearing about it for about 18 months. We confirmed with them no fewer than five times that yes, we were staying, and yes we were coming on X day. We arrived a day after DiploBIL and his family arrived, and hugged everyone. DiploMIL and DiploSFIL gave us the tour, starting with the upstairs. Their bedroom was beautiful, giant and posh. The DBs and DiploNephew were in a bunk bed with a trundle, perfect for 3 little/medium boys. DiploBIL and his wife were in a lovely room with a canopy bed, fluffy white bedding, and an en suite. DiploNiece had a room to herself with a double bed.

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The lovely bedroom occupied by the Other Son and his wife.

DiploSFIL: We put you downstairs. Come on; let’s go see where you’ll sleep.

DiploDad: Cool, sounds great.

So, we’re thinking that we hit the jackpot; we’ll be downstairs in a guest suite away from everyone. Instead, we get downstairs, turn into the rec room and see this:

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WhattheeverlovingFUCK???

As DiploMIL and DiploSFIL head back upstairs, I’m standing shock still STARING at my “bed” for the next four nights. And then I shake it off and I’m PISSED.

I turn to DiploDad and he immediately falls onto his knees –

Me: What the FUCK??? Are you fucking kidding me?

DiploDad: Shhhh! Shhh! I beg you, please do not make a big deal about this.

Me: Are you kidding me? I’m –

DiploDad: You can have the pop-out bed, I’ll sleep on the floor –

Me: Are you kidding? We’ve been married 26 years. We have two kids. We’re pushing 50. A 1980s era broken-down single pop-out couch and a couple of couch cushions wrapped in a sheet on the fucking floor are FINE??? While a 12-year-old gets her own room? Do you realize we’re in the rec room like middle school kids? I got over that shit YEARS ago, DiploDad.

DiploDad: We’ll fix this, I promise, we’ll fix this –

Me: On what fucking planet is this acceptable? Tell me. Really, tell me. We don’t even have a door to close. I’m not even in the same bed. Hell, the two cushions YOU will be sleeping on are uneven – one’s over an inch higher than the other – how is the OK for YOU?

I texted DiploSIL, who informed me that they’d tried to bring this up with the ILs but they said it would be ‘OK’ so they didn’t push it. She did offer to swap rooms with us. Seriously, am I wrong to think it would be OK for the 12yo niece to take the rec room? I didn’t think so. But even her MOTHER didn’t see that should be the solution.

An hour, a Target run, a lot more swearing, and $200 later, we had an aerobed and a pair of sheets.

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DiploDad: OK, bed, sheets – we need anything else?

Me: Wine.

DiploDad: (Reaches for tetrapak (hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) on shelf.) Two?

Me: Four.

I should probably mention that DiploMIL and DiploSFIL do not drink. So after all that crap, there wasn’t going to be any booze in the house. That’s not how I roll. I have children, people. You’ve met my children. I drink.

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I wanted to leave the empty bottles of our secret stash here for them to find.  DD nixed the idea. Spoilsport.

After the bed fiasco, we settled in, and things calmed down. We had a great few days exploring colonial Williamsburg, visiting, and hanging out.

The afternoon before we were going to leave, DiploNiece was showing me, DiploSIL and DiploMIL a dress she’d worn to a dance program at Colonial Williamsburg. I moved into her room entirely, and that’s when I saw it.

A three-foot high, spooky-ass, china doll on a bureau in the corner.

We left the room. I came back a few minutes later, picked up a pair of scissors I’d noticed on the nightstand, and placed them in the doll’s hands and went back downstairs.

Me: Hey – DB1, come here.

DB1: Yes, Mommy?

Me: Did you ever tell DiploNiece about Annabelle and the other haunted dolls you read about online?

DB1: Nope.

Me: Why don’t you?

  1. You Will Get Extra Special Treatment From TSA.

The flight was OK, but I got extraspecial treatment both at Dulles and at Heathrow. Sometimes, I think they just pull me to make sure their stats don’t reveal profiling. Still, when I’m being wiped down for powder AGAIN and getting a special pat down that seems to get more thorough every single year, I can’t help but blurt out: “Dude, I AM the target.” Still, TSA is there to keep us all safe, so I try not to fuss. Even if the rules about taking your shoes off are not the same everywhere. Even if the bag you need to put liquids in is different and you’re repacking three bags of toothpaste and Axe products, and even if I have to take all electronics out when it says “laptops” at one airport and not at the other. Which inevitably gets me pulled over for MORE frisking. Dammit.

Even if the song, “TSA Gangstas” keeps running through my head. It went viral a few years ago. If you missed it, here it is – oh, wait – don’t put this on with children present.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7AWw7t5zj0

Oh, and I lied. You get a bonus sixth reason:

  1. You’ll Still Do the Same Damn Shit Next Year.

I’d hit 53.25 hours awake by the time I got back in. Everything melted away once DiploDog attacked me with the exuberance only a small mixed-breed dog can deliver. After much DiploDog snuggling, unpacking a bunch of cheese and lunchmeat from my suitcase (and removing the TSA “I searched your bag because that shit looked like plastique advisory flyer”) and packing it in the freezer to take out in October or so, I hit the sack for a few hours rest before starting off full throttle.

A week later, DiploDad and the DBs showed back up, and they just managed to shake off the jet lag today – I hope.

We were getting our morning coffee a few days later when DB2 walked up to us.

DB2: Do we know what we’re doing when we go back home next summer?

Me: Nope. But it won’t EVER involve me sleeping on the floor again.

DiploDad: Damn straight.

Annabelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Camping Tips from the DBs

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Another summer, another camping trip with the DBs, and instead of a summary of what we did, I thought I’d ask the DBs to give you their Top 10 Tips for Camping Awesomeness. Ready?

DB2: Canoe paddles make awesome double lightsabres. DB1: But don’t let Mommy see you.

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DB1: Be very quiet if you see deer.

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DB1: Leaves of three, let it be, especially if you have to pee. DB2: You don’t want to deal with that there.

DB2: Be a boy. It doesn’t matter if you have to pee while you are hiking or in the canoe. DB1: Don’t be so sexist, you twit.

DB1: Always look at the view from the top of the mountain. DB2: Take a snack break too. Bring granola bars. The good kind, with chocolate chips. DB1: Not the kind Mommy brings, the kind Daddy brings. DB2: Yeah.

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DB1: You have to have s’mores, or it’s not camping.

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DB2: You can only drink the water on the trail if your Dad says you can. Your mother will never say you can, so ask your Dad.

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DB2: If someone stops on the hike, smack them on the butt. DB1: No! Why would you say that? DB2: Because if Mommy had smacked me on the butt, I would have moved and she wouldn’t have fallen and crushed me. DB1: Maybe it would be better to say look where you are going when you go on a hike. DB2: Definitely.

DB1: Always check a map.

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DB1: You can fight with your brother anywhere. DB2: Totally, dude.

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Packing Like a Boss – The Beach Weekend

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Over Memorial Day, DiploDad, DB2 and I went to the Maldives. It’s a beach place – kind of like going to Florida, and we stayed at a resort. Since it’s the summer, and so many folks are headed to the beach, I thought I’d give my tips for Packing Like a Boss for a weekend beach trip.

This packing list assumes that you’re going to spend most of your time in the water or on the beach, chilling. It also assumes that you’re going to restaurants for your meals, or that someone else is at least doing the cooking. I’d probably make a few changes if I needed to cook dinner – but maybe not. It also assumes two overnights and flight time.

Ok – let’s get packing!

The list:

  • Four shirts. One of them should be a cotton shirt that could arguably be ironed. One of them should be a tank top. The others can be whatever you want, but should be comfortable and go either super casual or dressy casual, depending on how you accessorize.

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  • OK, so really five shirts. Something fun that reminds you of home, where you came from, or something you love. With a logo.

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  • A solid color scarf/dupatta in a color that goes with the two dressy casual shirts. I like to pack a colored one, but cream or black may be more your style. You could also go the crazy route and pack a beachy print that clashes with everything, which would be awesome.
  • One pair of solid color shorts that go with pretty much everything. I like white, but khaki, navy, or black can be good options. Just keep in mind two things: dark colors suck in heat, and white will call attention to that Wonder Woman underwear if you wear it underneath. Consider yourself warned.

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  • One pair of linen pants. Again, go with a neutral. Same warnings for colors apply.
  • One casual skirt. I recommend a black stretch skirt. It packs well, you can usually rinse it in the sink if you have a stain emergency, and it goes with pretty much everything. If it suits whatever else you’ve packed and you have another color, go for that instead. If you’ve mostly solid tops packed, you could even pack a matching print. I like something a little less on the sporty side and more towards classic so that I have more evening options, but if you wanted to, you could totally pack one of those Columbia or LL Bean skort things.
  • One sundress or maxi dress. If you are going out at night, and you’re in Beach Land, you could arguably get away with tromping through dining establishments in a beach cover-up and your swimsuit or a crappy pair of cutoffs and a tie-dye t-shirt with a risqué logo, but don’t. Go the classy route. Not only will you feel fabulous, it will prevent any embarrassment if you should inadvertently run into an old boyfriend or your 3rd grade teacher. Stranger things have happened, trust me.

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Given these basics, you’re looking at something like this for your land-based outfit options:

 

On to the beach!

 

  • I personally find it better to go the bikini route. Because you can do this:

Not only that, if you are diving, it’s easier to get in and out of things, and makes the pit stop after a long swim that much quicker. Invest in a good suit – buy separates, and while Target may have some cheapie options, if you’ve any kind of bust, you will want to visit Water, Water, Everwhere or another swimsuit specialty shop to get supportive tops. As an added bonus, it will hold up even longer, so go ahead and lay out the cash. I like to pack one in black and then a cute suit I have with two separate top options in a color I know I look fabulous in. Color definitely matters if you’re showing that much skin, so choose carefully.

For those of you who are not comfortable with the two-piece option, throw in at least two one-pieces. You’ve got room, trust me.

  • A swimshirt. Let’s get real, people, there’s this thing called skin cancer, and you want to avoid it. Again, invest in a quality top. Cheap ones not only won’t hold up that long, they also won’t provide adequate sun protection.

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  • A good, packable hat. As long as we’re on the topic of sun protection, don’t forget the hat. Wide brim, collapsible. Make sure you’ve a wide enough brim to cover your neck. Target has a great selection of these every summer, and they ring up at about $15. If you’re not near a Target, check out some of the local tailors, especially in Africa – they tend to make things like hats out of scraps or ends of fabric. My friend, C, has one that I am dying to swipe. No matter what your fancy, you have a lot of options with hats – pick a neutral, pick one that matches most of your wardrobe, or go crazy and pick a bold, fun color you wouldn’t otherwise wear. Nothing says summer like a bright orange, pink, or yellow hat.

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  • Beach cover-ups. I like a shirt-style cover-up that you can use as a casual dress over your suit when you head to breakfast on your way to the beach. I also like to bring a pareo – a giant scarf – for when I’m actually on the beach and just want to run somewhere else for a minute. Wrap it around your waist as a skirt, or put it around your back like a towel, cross one corner over your chest, bring it around your neck, and then repeat with the other side, securing it around your neck – bingo – halter dress. I tend to use the shirt-style cover-up only for the trek to and trek from the beach. Not while I’m parked in a beach chair.

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Next Step: Accessories!

  • Let’s talk jewelry. Yes, you want some. No, you don’t want to bring Aunt Tilly’s special cocktail ring. Bring a couple of things you regularly wear, and don’t bring anything you would not be able to replace or would absolutely die if you lost. A few pairs of earrings in colors you’ve packed, a classic necklace, a fun bracelet or two, maybe a ring, and you’re done. Just keep in mind that whatever you’re wearing should be something you can wear with more than one outfit. Pack them in one of those jewelry cases I mentioned in this post – https://diplomom.com/2016/05/17/packing-like-a-boss-the-business-trip-edition/

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  • Two pairs of shoes. You’re going to a beach resort, so I’d propose two pairs of flip-flops – one “fancy” and one rubber pair for ratting around in. You don’t want to deal with heels unless there’s a boardwalk or an area where you’re able to walk around in those cute little sandals. If you do have that available, toss in those heels as an “extra” if you have room. You’ll be wearing the “fancy” flip-flops on the plane anyway.

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  • Sunglasses. I travel with two pair because I tend to misplace things. I throw one in my bag and one in my purse.

And the basics:

  • A nightgown, five pairs of knickers, and a bra or two – if you need a strapless bra, toss it in, although you could probably get away with the double strap thing if you wanted to and didn’t care about your grandmother rolling over in her grave. Your call. Make sure that whichever bra you pack is a different color from the one you’re planning on wearing on the plane.
  • Go easy on the makeup – let your natural beauty shine through, and you’re going to have the holiday glow, so don’t cover it. Mascara and lip gloss are nice though. For other products, put in some travel sizes of your daily products. You can acquire quite a selection of these from hotel travel, the drug store, and samples from where you buy your regular cosmetics. Don’t forget to ask the salespeople when you buy that 15 oz. $40 moisturizer for a few sample sizes. And by a “few”, I mean about 10. While the goal is to make it through the airport without having to check a bag, you also want to avoid skin cancer, so go ahead and try to sneak in a full-size bottle of sunscreen. If it doesn’t make it through, you can buy it once you arrive. I have about a 75% success rate on sneaking it in – don’t tell TSA, OK?  Pack it in one of these:

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Finally, what are you wearing on the plane?

  • Shoes. Comfy ones.
  • Neutral tank top. You might even wind up wearing it later on instead of other shirts, so keep that in mind when choosing.
  • Neutral sweater or jacket. It gets cold on the plane, so you’ll need it, even if it will be 40C when you arrive at your destination.
  • Neutral scarf. See tank top advice above when choosing the color.

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Done! That’s it –

 

Pack it up, grab your tickets and let’s go – the beach awaits!

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Styling courtesy of DB1.  

Where is the Love?*

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Friday night DiploDad and I herded Kind und Kegel into a large U.S. government van and headed to Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. The mood was high; we were headed home for about a month of leave, and family visits, Space Camp, a 4th of July BBQ in Colonial Williamsburg, and Five Guys were on the list. The adrenaline carried us through two eight-hour flights, a five-hour layover, a 45-minute rental car nightmare that probably compromised our credit card information, and an hour-and-a-half drive to DiploSis’ house in rural West Virginia.

We settled into the familiar rhythm with DiploSis and DiploBroIL, laughing as we enjoyed a drink on the porch while the DBs and their cousins ran around on the large grassy lawn. The sun still hung high in the sky when DiploDad finally succumbed to jet lag and lay down on the porch furniture to snooze. Early bedtime seemed a good idea. DB2’s eyes were so bloodshot, and with his two front teeth out he looked like a miniature vampire. DB1 was so unintelligible it sounded like he was speaking in tongues, and I just wanted to die. So, off we went to dreamland.

Turns out, that while we were in dreamland, a few hundred people were living a nightmare a few hours south of us. Again, we woke up to an America we didn’t know existed.

I really, truly have a hard time understanding why someone would be so – hateful.

Why someone would think that because someone loved someone else and they didn’t agree with it, they needed to die. Why someone would think it a perfectly rational thing to take the lives of 50 innocent people who were out to have a fun evening with friends and family. Why someone felt their religion required them to hate someone so much that they had to put a bullet in their body and end their life.

I found myself thinking, why so much hatred? Where is the love? I kept asking that to myself over and over, as I mulled over the incident, society, gun control, and extremism.

The LGBTQI community has requested people not focus on issues such as gun control, immigration, and Muslim hatred, and while I’ve definitely got opinions on all of those (surprised? I didn’t think so.), and I feel that the events of Sunday were a confluence of these; I’ll set them aside.  After all – I already addressed gun control in another post. https://diplomom.com/2015/12/05/remembering-olivia/

My generation straddles a bizarre place. Or at least some of us do. I was raised Catholic in the Deep South. In a military community. Not exactly the most welcoming of places if one were LGBTQI. By all stereotypes, I should be anti-gay. But I’m not.

Let me revise that statement. I initially was, back when I had no clue, no guidance other than traditional adults who had a lot at stake in the system, guilt was served up with a side of piety on Sundays (by some, but not all priests), and conformity was so much the norm I felt like a freak for not wearing the right color neon blouse or earrings. I heard, and used, the words “gay”, “faggot”, and “queer” on the playground without understanding what they meant and their impact on the LGBTQI community. I think I was well into high school when I realized they meant something other than “weird” or “stupid”. When one of my friends asked his mom what “queer” meant, she said, and I quote, “Someone who farts in the bathtub and smells the bubbles”. I kid you not. Not only did we use words that conveyed hate, we had no freaking clue what they meant, and not many folks were giving us accurate information.

It didn’t affect me too much. I mean, I’m straight. My parents, as many during that era, were just fine with not letting the cat out of the bag and letting me live in a bubble because Lord knows, I wouldn’t ever have to deal with that.

And I didn’t, until I went to college.

In college, I met DiploDad. He raved about this one professor. He was brilliant; he challenged you; he taught you so much. So, second semester my sophomore year, I registered for History of Bourbon France. Professor O’Brien was a talented teacher. He commanded a classroom. And he was, I’m certain, gay. He never said it outright. You really couldn’t in those days at WVU. Somehow, the topic came up in class, and some guy made a comment about gays, and the Professor said the one thing that cut through every justification I’d ever heard or clung to with respect to being gay being wrong or not normal:

“Did you just suddenly decide one day as you were walking across Mountainlair Plaza that you were heterosexual?”

No, I didn’t. Suddenly, to me, it all made sense. Of course, there was the default assumption I was raised under – “you’re straight, you will find a nice boy, and you will get married and have kids”. Which worked out fine for me, because I was. If I hadn’t been, it would have been difficult, I’m sure. At the same time, DiploDad and I had started to get serious, and were sharing all the family secrets. One of his was that he had not one, but two uncles who were gay. Four brothers, oldest two straight, youngest two gay.

It might seem like this would be a lot for sheltered little me to process, but it wasn’t really. Gay just became another trait in a long list of traits I began to notice and acknowledge in people I met. More significant than, say, brown eyes or left-handedness, but normal, and biological just the same.

Later on that year, the Gay and Lesbian Mountaineers appeared on campus**, and there was much criticism, homophobia, and curiosity. I don’t remember too much about it, to be truthful. It was a blip on the radar of my social life for most of my college career – I was involved in Greek Life on campus, and while there were some notable gay members (such as the Sigma Chi president who was out), LGBTQI and loudly out and publicly out still wasn’t the norm at WVU; most folks were still closeted.*** People were still largely uncomfortable with it. I don’t think I realized how uncomfortable until our senior year, when DiploDad and I were invited to a reception for all of the presidents of the student organizations and we realized that the GLM president was standing alone in a corner, rather awkwardly, by himself. We went over to talk to him, because we thought that was just wrong he was alone. It wasn’t a memorable conversation – for both of us, I’d bet. I can’t even remember if anyone else followed suit, but I do remember most people avoided him.

DiploDad proposed to me in December of our senior year, and “gay” was the elephant in the room as everyone was planning the wedding. DD’s grandmother had accepted her sons, and his grandfather grudgingly did too after many years, although I would never say he was comfortable with it. I was concerned at how my parents and the “gay contingent” of the family would interact. I shouldn’t have worried. My family has good manners, at a minimum, and everyone was, as I now know after years of experience, “normal”. I know I shouldn’t have worried, but it’s hard to escape your childhood sometimes.

There was a little drama, mostly centered on the announcement that Gay Uncle #1 and his partner were expecting a child with a lesbian couple. Someone said they were trying to steal the wedding couple’s thunder. I honestly could have cared less, and when I met the baby later on in the spring, I saw only a cute baby, not a scandal. Years later, that baby is a college graduate with a great job, a sister, and four parents who are involved in his life and love him. If that’s not a win and an example of stellar parenting, I don’t know what is.

Looking at DiploDad’s family and seeing how things played out with half of the sons in the family being gay sons of a traditional Air Force Colonel, I knew two things for sure. One, that genetically, homosexuality was a distinct possibility for any kids I might have, and two, that I wanted them to grow up understanding that I could care less whom they brought home to love as long as the relationship was healthy, they were loved the way they needed to be, and they understood that they were spending every other Christmas at my house.

I know that we’re succeeding on that front. We’ve had the luxury of the DBs growing up in a Small Town that is incredibly accepting, supportive, and inclusive with respect to gender identity diversity. No, it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s nothing like I grew up with. We’ve made a lot of great friends and some of them just happened to be LGBTQI. To my kids, it’s normal that men can marry men and women can marry women. They’ve seen it happen. They were so excited when one couple we know married and I was making their wedding cake, they wanted to be involved, critiqued my work and also made some accompanying cupcakes. When the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges and marriage equality was guaranteed, DB1 was shocked that it had ever not been permitted.

Why was it not? He demanded an answer. Well, I told him, some people didn’t agree with it and passed laws so they couldn’t get married.

“That’s just stupid.”

Yes, it is. With those three words, I know I’ve scored a small victory. If the DBs aren’t LGBTQI, they will at least be allies, and the world will be a tiny bit more accepting. The hatred sprayed in the Pulse nightclub on June 12 in the form of bullets won’t come from my boys.   I don’t always get it right, and for things like this when I have definite baggage and limits on my understanding, I screw it up from time to time, and I probably always will. DB1 is old enough to understand what happened. I’ve talked to him, and he is upset with the motivation of the shooter, serving up a few choice words to describe him and the entire situation. Yes, I told him, it’s awful. It’s complicated, and some people have so much hate in their hearts, but we can’t give into it, as much as we want to. Because then we lose and they win. We have to be the good ones. We have to treat all people equally, accept them as who they are, and if we see someone being mean, or spreading hate, we have to say something; otherwise, we are culpable too.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I will. It’s just love. And love is a good thing.”

And suddenly, I had the answer to the question that plagued me Sunday afternoon.

 

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*Where is the Love, by the Black-Eyed Peas. Listen to it. You really should. On repeat.

**GLM was not the first LGBTQI organization at WVU. The first one was The Homophile Awareness League, and was founded in the early 1970s. Today, what I knew as GLM is called “Spectrum”. Read more about Spectrum here – http://spectrum.studentorgs.wvu.edu/

** An example of how deep that closet was: When I was a junior, the student government president was a man named Brad Hoylman. He is now the only openly gay member of the New York state legislature. To my knowledge, he was closeted the entire time he was at WVU. In any event, it was not widely public knowledge. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Hoylman

 

 

 

 

Disco Inferno

Ever since I saw them parked outside the Taj one evening, I’d been dying to take a ride around Colaba in a “Disco Cart”. Disco Cart isn’t the official name, actually – they’re horse drawn carts used for weddings, and festivals, and they’re called “Victorias”. When they’re not in use pulling a bridal party about, they park just in front of the Taj near the Gateway of India, and wait for tourists.

During the day, there’re really not much to look at. They’re a shiny silver, yes, and they have garlands and bling on them, but nighttime is when they really shine.

As the sun dips low behind the Gateway, the coaches light up in a cacophony of neon, shining stars, hearts, and waves illuminating the cart and rainbows of color bouncing off the shiny silver coach and making the artificial flowers seem even more bizarrely-colored. It’s cheesy, and 70’s, and tacky as Hell. It’s freaking awesome.

It’s also very “disco”, so because I have a strange kind of aphasia and forget words for things when they don’t make sense to my brain wiring, I call them “Disco Carts”.

I had many conversations with DiploDad about taking a ride in them. They always, always went like this:

Me: “Hey – after we go to the National Day Reception for Other Country on Wedensday

night, let’s go ride one of the disco carts!”

DD: “Maybe.”

Me: “Dammit.”

This conversation might not seem like a complete denial, but it really is. I’ve learned over the years that “we’ll see” means “yes” and “maybe” means “no” in Hidden DiploDad Speak.   If you’re married, think about it – I bet there’s something like this in your daily interactions. If you’re not, you’ve been warned this might be in your future.

Every time things went this way, I got a little more panicked. You see, the Biharmumbai Municipal Corporation, in response to protests by animal rights activists, banned the carts from the Gateway area beginning in June 2016. http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-with-the-ban-of-mumbai-s-iconic-horse-drawn-victorias-an-era-comes-to-an-end-2099076

And since I’m writing about this, you know I have an opinion on that.

I’ve ridden in a horse-drawn sleigh over the snowy countryside of Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany. I’ve been pulled through New York’s Central Park in the fall with the leaves crunching under the horse’s feet. I’ve circled around the city center in Vienna, Austria. I’ve taken a camel cart ride near the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, and I’ve been for a covered wagon ride in Texas.

So I don’t think that banning the horses is a fantastic idea.

The folks who own and operate the horse carts and horses aren’t wealthy, and they probably won’t make bank on the number of weddings they book every year. A tourist might pay R1500 for a half-hour ride, and that’s pretty generous. Others might not be as good a negotiator and pay R2500. It doesn’t take a genius (and I never claimed to be one) to figure out that the income of the Disco Cart guys is going to drop if these are banned, and will drop significantly. I’m not sure how many of them are in regular rotation at the Taj, but let’s just say that there are 50. That’s 50 families, maybe 200 people, whose living is affected – significantly. There’s been a “phase out period”, but not much else, and let’s be frank – there’s no way to reinvest when you’ve got a lot tied up in a horse and cart, and how do you find something to supplement that loss of income when you aren’t adequately educated? You don’t. Unless you’re really, really special.

The activists point to mistreatment of the horses, and say it’s cruel. I admit – I’ve seen a horse or two down there that looked like Ally McBeal in the 1990s. I’ve also seen a few pudgeballs. But most of the horses there look relatively well-nourished, and it’s not an unusual sight to see them drinking from buckets or munching on a carrot of a bucket of horse chow. I can’t imagine widespread horse battering either – there are front-page stories here about vets doing surgery on turtles to save them, and the story of Shaktiman, the police horse that was injured at a political rally moved the city and nation. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/police-horse-shaktiman-dies/article8499526.ece

It just wouldn’t be tolerated if some idiot started waling on his animal. Let’s also be honest – horses are domesticated working animals. They’ve been used to plow fields, pull goods, and transport people throughout history. And horses are expensive. If they aren’t earning, they’re a liability, and I seriously doubt they’ll be cared for the way they need to be if they are just a very, very large belly to fill in a family with less money coming in.

There’s a really – interesting – photo of an activist draped with signs and chains and pulling a disco cart. The activist in the photo looks like ME. So, ahem. Draw your own conclusions on that. I certainly did.

I’m not saying let this go unregulated, or don’t check on the horses – nope, I’m not. I’m saying maybe it would be better to find a way to license folks, do health checks, and regulate it. No, I’m not blind to the difficulties and to the possibility of things not going well or someone turning a blind eye after the exchange of a few rupees. But I think an outright ban is going to cause some problems that could be avoided with a little bit of thoughtfulness.

So the clock is running, and soon the Disco Carts are going to be gone forever, and I wasn’t any closer to getting a ride than I was when I first saw them. Then, one night, I asked DD if he’d like to go to dinner.

Me: “Hey – how does dinner at Ellipsis on Friday sound? We could go ride in a Disco

Cart afterwards?”

DD: “Sounds great”.

Me: “!!!”

So after dinner, we went down to the Gateway and our driver parked nearby. As we walked over, I was cursing that we’d waited so long. Because it was HOT. And by hot, I mean not “Africa Hot”, I mean “India Hot”. By May in Mumbai it’s hovering around the high 30Cs, and any outdoor activity with your spouse is a “hot date”, but not exactly in the way you might intend.

Still, I was going to get a ride on a Disco Cart even if I melted, and DD knew it, so he held his hand out and helped me from the air-conditioned car.

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We walked over and checked out all the carts, eventually deciding on one with hearts and stars on it. And a very nice, well-fed horse named Shah Rukh, who was nuzzling his owner.

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We haggled for the 30-minute tour, and while I know we paid WAY more than we should have, I felt I was getting a pretty good deal. We set out at a good clip, and wound our way through Colaba. It was too hot to hold hands (wah!) and definitely too hot for DD to put his arm around me (double wah!), but we were moving fast enough for a light breeze that made it very pleasant.

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Our tour guide spoke limited English, but he’d memorized his route and had some pertinent information for all the sites we passed. We learned a few things.

We passed some kids driving around in these cute little bobby cars that were all lit up. One of them raced us, laughing and waving all the way to the corner.

We went up by the Taj, passing all the idle Disco Carts. We saw skinny horses, fat horses, horses with their noses in buckets. We saw old men and young men, middle aged men, all hanging out waiting for the next tourist.

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When we wound back around, we were finished, Shah Rukh cruised to a stop, and we hopped out shortly thereafter. His owner then gave him a carrot, and I walked over to say hello with a few strokes on his nose. He repaid me with a nudge and a snort.

We walked back to our car, and even though it was cooler, it definitely didn’t have the magic of neon or the sound of hoofbeats, clicking with every second the countdown to the loss of the Disco Carts.

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Packing Like a Boss – The Business Trip Edition

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In a previous life, I used to travel for business a lot. By the end of my seven years with Big Law Firm, I was a pro at packing for a trip. I recently went to Delhi for a week for business, and I’m happy to report that not only are my packing skills still pretty good, but they’re actually better than ever thanks to my expat training.

The tips below are meant to help you (if you are female – sorry guys) pack efficiently and with the most options for a weeklong business trip, assuming a Sunday afternoon arrival and a Friday evening departure.

Now, let’s get on with it.

Tip #1: Choose a basic neutral. Mine is black – you might be more of a brown person, or tan, or navy, or even olive. The key is to pick a neutral color that flatters you and will enable you to build a variety of outfits with them as the base.

Tip #1: Find your white. Mine is bright, stark white. Yours might be eggshell or ecru or perhaps even a grey-tinged white. It should go well with your skin tone and basic neutral.

Tip #3: You need a primary accent color. Look in your closet and it will probably be obvious what it is, because I guarantee you, you’ve already bought many different pieces in this color. This also means that it will go well with your basic neutral. What? You say you have a couple of “majority colors” in your closet? True, I’m supposing you do, so then it’s time to be honest and think about which one of those colors you get the most compliments in – is it the pink dress the color of a tea rose, or is it the fire-engine red blouse that you feel like a million bucks in? For this trip, I chose turquoise.

Tip #4: Now, pick a secondary accent color. Having already picked out your primary, you get to give your runner-up a bit more consideration. The only thing to remember is that you want to make sure your primary and secondary accent colors go well together. I chose bright blue.

Tip #5: Pack some stuff to work out in. Nope, you might not get to, but you just might and you’ll sleep a heck of a lot better and feel a lot sharper if you burn off a little energy instead of spending that extra hour in the hotel bar. I’m not saying you should skip the socializing, I’m saying you can show up fashionably late, feeling virtuous, and still get your drink on.

Here’s my packing list for one week:

  1. 2 pairs of shoes – one should be in your basic neutral, one should be in an accent color if possible. I like to have my neutral one be a pair of heels.
  2. 4 sets of jewelry. What I mean by a set is something that goes together (not necessarily bought together) and involves earrings, necklace and perhaps a pin or a bracelet. Each one should be distinctly different, and I’d recommend that one of them involve pearls. This is business, people. You can’t go wrong with pearls.
  3. 4 shirts. One in your basic white. One in each of your accent colors, solid, and one in a print involving your basics and accent colors.
  4. One scarf/dupatta/shawl in an accent color. Not a skinny, tiny, thing that a flight attendant would knot around her neck, something you can get some drapage real estate out of.
  5. One cardigan. I recommend it in your primary accent color.
  6. 1 blazer in your basic neutral.
  7. 1 pair of jeans or capris in your neutral white. Keep in mind that I’m dressing for the tropics, or warm weather, so if you live in, say, the Ukraine, this might mean a pair of wool slacks or something herringbone.
  8. The suit pants from your basic neutral.
  9. The skirt from your basic neutral – you DID buy both the pants and the skirt, right? Right??!!?
  10. A patterned skirt involving your basics and one of your accent colors. I went with the secondary accent color.
  11. A plain sheath in your neutral basic.
  12. A patterned dress involving your neutral basic, maybe your white, and one (or maybe both) of your accent colors.

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That’s going to form the basic “looks” that you create for your working wardrobe. As I was playing around with my choices, I came up with at least 16 different outfits, and while no – they weren’t as radically different as the costume changes Lady Gaga has during a concert, they each hit a different mark with respect to formality, style, and comfort level. Meeting with the Big Boss? Go for the heel and the blazer options, throw in classic pearls. A day of team-building exercises with co-workers? Bring on the jeans, a shirt, and some flats, maybe the cardigan or scarf to keep the A/C chill away.

Here’s a selection of the outfits I came up with:

I’ve already mentioned jewelry as an accessory, but I know some of you are waiting for a more complete list. Yes, bring a purse that compliments all your outfits, in either an accent color or your basic neutral. As a rule, I don’t recommend white purses, but if you’re better at keeping ballpoint pen scunge off them than I am, go for it. I personally don’t do belts, but if you do, you’ve certainly got room for them. When I was finished with all my basic work outfit packing, I got it all down to this:

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I even had room to throw in a more casual pair of slacks in my neutral basic that gave me even more outfit options. Fantastic.

As for the jewelry, I recommend one of these:

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I inherited it from elderly relatives, and if you can find something like this, I recommend it without reservation. The zipper pouch is great for smaller pieces or chains.  Hand carry this, ladies.  I really shouldn’t have to tell you this.

I did pack other things, obviously, but I’m not photographing them for you, because I think a list should suffice without showing you my undergarments. I also packed:

  1. 6 pairs of knickers.
  2. A nightgown (or whatever you change into to sleep)
  3. 3 pairs of sports socks
  4. 1 sports bra
  5. swimsuit, goggles, and swim cap
  6. 1 bra
  7. 1 pair workout shorts
  8. 2 wicking workout tops

Not only does this provide you with appropriate foundation, it covers workouts no matter if you want to swim, run, or hit the fitness center.

Add your toiletries. Although you may have run over from carry-on to smaller, checked suitcase, you still don’t want to weigh down your bag. Bags marked “heavy” are last to come off the band, and you don’t want to stand around waiting for it if you can help it. I recommend investing in a sturdy plastic or plastic-lined toiletry bag (so you don’t keep having to use plastic zipper lock bags). Don’t pack shampoo or soap – the hotel has that, and you don’t need the extra weight. You may want to throw in a small sized conditioner if you use it. Toss in your toothbrush, whatever makeup you use, hair bands, Q-tips and cotton balls (I recommend a separate little pouch for those) and a curling brush.

As far as other toiletries such as face wash, toner, wrinkle cream, and toothpaste go, I recommend using travel sizes. Certain travel sizes such as toothpaste and conditioner, maybe mouthwash, can be purchased at a drugstore, so stock up on those when you get the chance, or do the earth a favor and buy the little bottles you can refill with what you use at home. If you use a certain brand of product, such as Kiehl’s or Estee Lauder, the next time you go to the counter and purchase your products, ask for the samples and travel sizes. I’ve got my Kiehl’s guy at the local mall so trained for this, he now just automatically throws in packets of stuff I use when I make a purchase.

You’re just about ready to close the suitcase now. But before you do, throw in something comfy to remind yourself of home.

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Now for your plane outfit. Those of you who were freaking out at the idea of only one bra all week can now rest easy – you have two, because you’ll be wearing one on the plane. Unless you are meeting the Big Boss for drinks/dinner the second you get off the plane, you should dress to fly in comfort. The flight attendants will treat you like crap unless you’re in business class anyway, so there’s no point in dressing up. Notice I did not say, “dress like a slob”. Go ahead and wear jeans, and definitely wear whatever sport shoe you will be using for workouts during the week – you don’t want to take up valuable packing space with giant shoes anyway, and it’s easier to run in between connections when the plane is inevitably late if you don’t wear impractical footwear. Wear a dressy casual blouse, and no, it need not be in any of the colors you’ve packed. I also recommend another large scarf/pareo for the chilly plane – this can also be in a different color. Wear some casual jewelry – maybe some hoop earrings and a simple chain. I do encourage you to think about how the jewelry, scarf or blouse might go with your neutrals and whites just in case you want to get crazy and sport something different during the week.

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There you go! We’re finished. Obviously, you should feel free to play a little with the list and add in or delete items as they work or don’t work with your usual style or wardrobe. I hope I’ve given you a head start on how you can pack for any type of business meeting or event, and that these tips on “packing like a boss” free your mind to think of other things so you can BE the boss.

Have a good trip!

 

 

Gee. Bee. Vee.

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In February, I went to one of Mumbai’s grandest annual events, the Kala Ghoda Art Festival. To quote the Kala Ghoda Association, “The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is a community celebration of the arts within one of the most beautiful and historic precincts in Mumbai, the Kala Ghoda Art District.”

I went last year, too, and had quite a lot of fun. “KGAF” as it’s known, is pretty cool; part of the streets and public walkways are cordoned off, and there are performances, street art, vendors, workshops, and projects, both in open public spaces and in art galleries and workshops throughout Kala Ghoda. The shopping, truth be told, is fantastic, and is a place those generally uninspired by the regular gift-shop kitsch of Mumbai or run-of-the-mill art houses can find a new and interesting treasure, often with an historic or traditional Mumbai flavor.

One of the reasons I went, honestly, was to see some of the public art, specifically a mural by American artist Joel Bergner. The Consulate participates in KGAF every year, and this year it helped get Joel out to Mumbai. Joel is described by his website as “a nomadic artist, educator, and advocate for social change”. http://joelartista.com/ He’s done some pretty awesome stuff – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Bergner , and his art has focused on issues such as Syrian refugees, Middle East peace, and sex trafficking awareness. He works with artist groups, community groups, and students to develop and paint murals on buildings, walls, and canvases, and uses the workshops where the murals are planned and painted to help facilitate discussion, education, and awareness. He’s worked in refugee camps, juvenile and adult detention centers (that’s fancy talk for “prisons”), and Washington, DC. In short, he’s a talented, artistic, social justice badass.

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Joel’s focus for the mural was gender-based violence, otherwise known as GBV. It’s an important social issue. It’s relevant. But I was very curious what Bergner was going to actually DO with this topic. Sure, I’d seen his other works virtually, and the scale and impact was amazing, but I was wondering what he was thinking of – or actually what his workshop participants were thinking of – when it came to GBV and bringing a message to canvas.

As I frequently say when I start to wade into topics other than my experiences with Indian culture, travel, and the DBs, as you continue to read on (if you do), remember that (a) these views are mine and mine alone and that (b) I’m not the diplomat.

GBV is a serious problem in India. You know about it from the world news, probably – the woman who was gang-raped and beaten by six men on a bus so severely that she died of her injuries. The Indians refer to her as “Nirbhaya”, which translates as “fearless one”. Nirbhaya’s rape and resulting death sparked a revolution in India, the likes of which shook the nation to the core as protests sprung up across the country, politicians and celebrities commented and voiced their outrage, and news media ran countless articles, bringing the issue of GBV into the spotlight of public discourse.   Her parents have recently decided to reveal her name, Jyoti Singh, maintaining (correctly) that she has done nothing to be ashamed of and should not hide. Her story was in the news most recently in December of last year when the one juvenile attacker (at 17 years and 6 months, he was just shy of being tried as an adult) was released from his maximum sentence of 3 years in a juvenile facility.

GBV certainly is not limited to within the borders of India, and the U.S. is definitely not devoid of it. But it seems to me that India is still going through a rather painful period with respect to violence against women. According to recent statistics, GBV is actually on the rise within India, and it’s not just confined to rural areas where a large portion of the population is illiterate, patriarchal, and clings to outdated gender roles that don’t serve India or her society. It’s on the rise in the capital, and in my own beloved city of Mumbai. I read the newspapers every day, and there are always several reports. I decided to do an experiment and track the instances of GBV reported in the local papers for a week. Beginning on Friday, February 5, 2016 and ending Thursday, February 11, twenty-seven stories about GBV attacks ran in the major English-language newspapers in Mumbai. It’s depressing.

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This was “Make in India” week.  Draw your own conclusions about what the big story was that week.

Honestly, it weighs on my mind, but it doesn’t really affect me directly. Being a “giraffe in the zoo” means that I stand out. Being memorable means that I attract attention, and while I might not exactly have hundreds of people flocking to my aid were I “Eve teased”, I’m certain that in a group of people, I’d likely be skipped because I am probably regarded as a more “complicated” target. In other words, I won’t play by the rules. There’s probably a foreign company, government, or organization that will raise holy Hell if anything happens to me. Heck, I might even raise a ruckus as a woman journalist did last year when she was confronted. In short, it won’t get swept under the rug or ignored, and I won’t be told to just “forget about it”. I won’t just roll my eyes at it or fight back and forget it and continue on my way, knowing, as some of my local friends have said, that “it’s not permanent, so it’s not worth it.” Sure, expats/foreigners are subject to GBV, and I know a few who have been, but it’s not the same as what happens to local women.

It took me a couple of months to realize why my evening helper, L, got nervous and jittery if DiploDad and I had a late night. I came home one night and she was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It was SO not L.

Me: L, I have cab fare, and, (looking up at L) um . . . ?

L: Ma’’am, I don’t want to come home now. It isn’t good.

Me: ?? Do you want me to call you a cool cab? I can –

L: I –

Me: Wait – why? – oh.

L: The cab driver only takes me to the depot. He won’t go to my door. I have 10 minutes walk and the street is dark.

Me: You can stay here.

So she stayed. And now, when I know it will be late, I call her early in the evening or let her know in advance and her daughter comes to stay with her in our guest room overnight. Or I ask our driver D to stay a few hours later and drive her directly to her door before leaving. I’ve recently taken to calling her an uber – and I can send updates to her family and track where she is during the ride. I always ask both V and L to text when they are safely in their homes.

I have to say that although the newspapers depress me, I always try to see the good with the bad, and pick the shiny gold pieces out of the rubbish pile. And there are definitely gold pieces.

As with any crime where the victims are traditionally women and children – whether it is trafficking, domestic violence, or rape, an increase in reported cases means that more cases are being reported, and that tolerance for that type of behavior is waning. It signals that there is a shift in attitudes, and that victims are having the courage to confront attackers and file cases. Alongside that comes greater awareness through the publicity of these cases that enforcement of the laws is a positive thing, that the victims are not to blame, and that such events should not be ignored or regarded as normal. Nirbhaya set a spark to tinder in Indian society, and they’ve kept the pot on the front burner. Many people refuse to be quiet now, whether it’s a victim, a family member, or a friend, and whether they have personally experienced it or not, most people I’ve met have very strong opinions about it. Maybe it’s not just just an ‘opinion’, because I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks GBV is not a problem in India and that it should be ignored.

I’ve been amazed and heartened at the number of men involved in fighting GBV.

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Some young men have invented apps that help women. Some lead student groups or participate in discussions led by victims of GBV. Men participated in the Consulate’s GBV Film Festival last December, and submitted several thought-provoking entries. Check the films out here – https://www.youtube.com/user/usconsulatemumbai/videos There’s an amazing group called MAVA – Men Against Violence andAbuse.  http://www.mavaindia.org/ The interest is real, and the concern for their mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives is real. Whenever I meet or read about these men in the paper, I hope that I can someday be as proud of the DBs for their attitudes on gender as the mothers and fathers of these young men should be.

And of course, there are the women activists. Women like Aarefa of Saniyo who speak out against female genital mutilation – http://www.dnaindia.com/health/report-international-day-for-zero-tolerance-of-fgm-ngo-sahiyo-s-petition-to-end-female-genital-mutilation-in-india-2174354 Women who work with the police to help train them to deal with victims of GBV in their work like filmmaker Vibha Bakshi. http://daughtersofmotherindia.com/ And there are women policemen, visible in large numbers, and who are there to serve as a bridge where men just might not know what to say at that moment, or who might not be welcome just then by a female victim. There are NGOs in different layers of society, all who support victims, educate, and spread the message that it’s not acceptable.

To be sure, it’s a hard thing to overcome certain entrenched ideas, practices, and reactions in a country of a billion people, especially one as diverse as India. But as we’ve seen, the people of India put GBV on the front burner after Nirbhaya, and I can assure you that it’s still there. It’s a gift that I had the opportunity to see Joel Bergner and his fellow painters help add fuel to the fire.

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The woman in yellow is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra.  The community practices FGM-C. Which is why her selfie in front of the mural caught my attention.

In 2013, Nirbhaya was awarded the International Women of Courage Award by the U.S. Department of State. http://www.state.gov/s/gwi/programs/iwoc/2013/bio/index.htm

In between starting to write this post and its publication, some notable events have taken place.

The brutal rape and murder of a young law student in Kerala on April 28 has brought the conversation back to the front pages, although the public outrage has reached nowhere near that post-Nirbhaya. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/Brutal-Rape-and-Murder-of-Jisha-in-Kerala-Galvanises-Politics/2016/05/03/article3413335.ece

On May 5, four men were given life imprisonment for the deaths of two young men who were beaten and stabbed to death in October 2011 who had defended their female friends from sexual harassment outside of a restaurant in the suburbs of Mumbai. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/four-convicted-in-keenanreuben-murder-case/article8560388.ece

 

Blonde Ambition

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In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m blonde. Yeah, yeah – I’ve heard all the jokes, so knock it off. I’ve always maintained that if blonde were a bad thing, it wouldn’t be available in a bottle. I’ve had a long run maintaining what I have. Full disclosure here (and I imagine the next time I walk through the cafeteria at the Consulate I’ll have “Roots Peepers”): My blond is kind of . . . helped out.

I will admit to the usual sins – a few bad platinum years in my twenties, using the box of Nice & Easy without doing a strand test, and yes – asking DiploDad to don the gloves and help me even out the back. (He’s going to kill me when that gets out.) But sometime in the middle of law school, I got sick of it and headed downtown to a swanky hair salon and discovered the beauty of highlights and lowlights.

Enter the Foreign Service. For our first post in Cameroon, hair wasn’t an issue for me. I continued to visit my swanky NYC salon (and inveigle whenever DD asked “who is this Warren-Tricomi guy?” Full disclosure: it’s TWO guys.). I was only a visitor during school breaks and summers, so you can bet I scheduled a touch-up two days prior to any visit. When one sees one’s husband for a record 49 days a year, one must look good. Especially if you know that he’ll finally have you cornered and you’ll have to fess up about that Warren guy.

I never really realized how much of a pain it could be to get a haircut for some women. I’m white, American, and grew up in the suburbs with stick-straight hair. Mainstream hair salons and chains cater to that type of hair in the U.S. Even at a beauty college, I won’t turn out looking like someone chewed my hair off instead of cutting it. My first clue that this wasn’t exactly the norm came from my co-clerk the second year DiploDad was in Ghana. And it wasn’t even my experience.

Poor H was one of my co-clerks. He is Chinese-American, and the poor guy landed a clerkship in Charleston, WV. It was not a match made in Hair Heaven.

Me: H! OMG.

H: (Runs hand nervously through his hair.) It’s not too bad, right?

Me: Um, well – where’d you get it cut?

H: The beauty college. The lady said she knew what she was doing.

Me: Did she? (eyes darting nervously anywhere but the hair on the top of his head)

H: Yeah – she even took me out in front of that night’s class to show everyone whatAsian hair was like. Like, she knew it was different, so she had to know what she was doing. It looks fine, right?

Me: It looks like someone left an alopecic warthog on the top of your head.

The thing that drove me crazy was that H had a girlfriend in NYC whom he regularly visited. It took me months to figure out why he continued to torture himself the entire year he clerked while even I, the local girl, made a regular trip to The City for my hair.

Fast forward a few months later:

Me: OMG. You did it AGAIN.

H: I thought they’d get better at it.

Me: Really? I mean, you’re going to see J next week – you’ll be five subway stops from Chinatown. Why do you do this?

H: I don’t want to show up with my hair too long and have J think I am not taking care of myself.

This never ended. To this day, I am convinced that in some random beauty college in WV, there are tales of the “Chinese Guy” who stopped by every six weeks for a year before he vanished forever. Before the year was over, however, J had broken up with him. I really think it was the haircut.

That was my wakeup call that Not All Hair is Created Equal.

I hit snooze, however, and rolled over until I went to visit DiploDad four months after I started clerking. Right around the time H was struggling with the beauty college students, M, an entry level officer at the Embassy in Cameroon, was awaiting my arrival in Yaoundé after her first experience with a local beauty shop left something to be desired.

M: Can you do my hair this week?

Me: Um, sure. What do you want done?

M: Color – I’ve got a box.

Me: Sure – I can do that, no problem.

M: And a cut too.

Me: Eerrrmm . . . .

And that is how I found myself on M’s back porch, Nice & Easy gloves sliding in goopy reddish goo in 90+F degree weather. The color part was cake. The cut part . . . a little nerve-wracking.

Me: So, um, I have no idea what I’m doing.

M: As if anyone else here does either. The last lady I booked an appointment with brought out the curl relaxer. (Note: M’s hair is pin straight)

Me: OKaaaay.

M: Look – straight across – bangs and the back and sides. It’s like an elementary school haircut, for crying out loud, if your mother could do it, and my mother could do it, you sure as Hell can do it and I can deal with it for the next 8 months until I go home. Now snip!

So I did. I mangled – er – managed it. Initially, I said I’d take off 2-3 inches. But then when it wasn’t quite even, I went a little further. By the time I was finished, enough red hair was on the floor to build my own puppy, but M was satisfied.

Frankfurt was fine, as the official national hair color of Germany is blond. A stint in the U.S. during language training for DiploDad was fine too. Then, my hair problems began.

We moved to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city. There was much ado about Nancy Kissel’s expensive haircuts https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Robert_Kissel but I wasn’t in her income bracket. It wasn’t horrible, however, and within the first year I found someone to do the upkeep.

The next posting was little more challenging – Ghana. My savior came in the form of an Embassy spouse with a home-based business. K was awesome. But she moved after two years. Finally, another spouse hung up a shingle too – after some wonky discussion and management, um, “kerfuffle” – and I was fine there for the most part.

I didn’t figure India would be difficult. A lot of businesses here employ expats who have hair like mine. There are many foreign consulates here. The Desi women are into beauty.   So I was completely unprepared for any challenges.

I did the first thing I always do when I get into a new country: ask around. My blond European friends all swore by this established French chain, whose initials are JCB. I visited them, and even saw the creative director, but was less than thrilled. At that point, I realized that most of my Euro friends did the single-process thing, or did that and then put on highlights. It was not what I was used to, and frankly speaking, the Madame Creative Director sucked at highlights. If someone comes in because roots are a problem, go to the END of the hair up by the scalp, honey, don’t leave a half-centimeter of dark there. Moreover, in spite of me telling Madame Creative Director to just do a very, tiny trim, she “shelved” me. “Shelving” is when some moron decides that they need to do the Jennifer Anniston long layers from the 1990s “Friends” era, and you are left with a huge “shelf” of hair that just hangs there on top of the bottom layer unless you are willing to spend forty-five minutes blow-drying your hair daily, which I’m definitely not. I even told her not to cut layers, and read her the riot act when she tried to “explain” that it would help my hair hang nicer in the tropical weather. I’ve lived in the tropics about one-third of my life, I know what doesn’t work. I wore a ponytail for months.

Right before I left, the building across from my apartment compound opened up a Warren-Tricomi salon in the spa. I was so tempted. I almost cancelled my home leave appointment with Richard*, God of All Hair and creative director of PR@Partners in McLean, VA. But I didn’t, and I went home where Richard greeted me with a hug and a double-cheek air kiss.

Richard:  “I haven’t seen you in forever! How is India?”

Me:  “India’s fabulous. How’ve you been?”

Richard:  “Great, I – um.”

Me:  “Yeah, I know. Just fix it, OK?”

I smiled into the mirror three-and-a-half hours later, so happy I could barely stand it. Before I left, I mentioned the new salon next door at home.

Richard:  “Oh, perfect! They use the same training program and continuing education we do! Let me write down the formula for you.”

I left even happier that I thought possible. I had the hair formula and competent folks a stone’s throw from home.

Fast forward to October. I called the WT salon, explained I wanted highlights and lowlights and had the formula. I made an appointment for the following Wednesday.

I went into the spa ten minutes early on Wednesday and inhaled the familiar spa scents of lemongrass and essential oils. I approached the reception.

Me:  “Hi, I have an appointment at 5:30 with X.”

Reception Dude:  “Your name?”

Me:  “DiploMom.”

Reception Dude:  “Hmmm. Just a minute.”

He disappeared and returned about five minutes later with a tall, good-looking, young man in salon black, who introduced himself and began my “consultation”. Apparently, no – it wasn’t a hair appointment as I had thought. X basically told me that he had to see my hair to get the colors. I handed him the paper Richard had given me with the color cocktail. X smiled and told me he’d order these from the market. I made a follow-up appointment for Friday.

Friday, I looked at my phone on the way over and discovered I had two missed calls. I didn’t know the number. I arrived at the salon, pushed the door open, and was met by X, who told me he was unable to get the right colors from the market. Okaaay. I made a follow-up appointment for the next Wednesday.

Wednesday rolled around and I went back to WT. This time, I was actually sitting in the chair with my hair let down and X running a brush through it when he told me that yet AGAIN he couldn’t get the colors. He could do a base, and then do a haircut and we could then order the colors again. NO. I got up, grabbed my things, and left without a backward glance. When the manager called me to reschedule the next day, I gave him an earful and told him to take me off his contact list. I still get text messages from the spa and salon. It’s irritating.

With roots that were moving beyond a mere fashion statement Madonna circa 1993, I bit the bullet and went back to Madame Creative Director’s salon. It turned out that Madame had succumbed to the irritation with India she’d voiced to me during my appointment and moved back to France, so they proposed S. S was Indian, so at least I didn’t have to hear someone whine about India while I got my hair done, and actually got some fun tips on cool stuff to do, which Marathi movie I should see if I only saw one in my life, and cooking tips. It still wasn’t a fantastic highlight/lowlight experience, but it would do. I returned to him in February.

S:  “Hi! So great to see you again!”

Me:  “Great to see you too! What’s new?”

S:  “It’s still a secret – they don’t know here yet – but I accepted a job on a cruise ship!”

Dammit.

It’s now April. And we’ve got lots of farewells, kid end-of-year events, and stuff coming up and there will be photos. I’ve gotta get the hair done again.

If anyone knows where all the Russian Bollywood backup dancers get their hair done, please let me know. Otherwise, I’ve got two boxes of Nice ‘n’ Easy under the sink, and DiploDad owes me a favor.

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*Normally, I don’t name names.  But Richard is so freaking awesome that his praises deserve to be sung, and if you are in the DC area, you deserve to know about him.  Tell him DiploMom sent you.