Friday, November 19, 2010


I knew I should have copyrighted my name!

During orientation in the Foreign Service, among the many things you learn are dictionaries worth of acronyms. PNG'd, for example, is a bad thing. It means that you've been declared "Persona Non Grata" by the country in which you serve and you must leave. Diplomats can be asked to leave a country for violating its laws or in retaliation when host country diplomats are expelled from the U.S. or simply upon the whim of a dictatorial head of state. In either of the latter two instances there is a certain cachet in being PNG'd but in the first case, it is never thought to be career enhancing.

In my orientation class, we looked amongst ourselves and tried to guess who would be the first to become an ambassador and we reached an almost unanimous consensus on one candidate. He has not disappointed us and is well along the right track. When I suggested that we might also take a shot at forecasting who would be the first to be PNG'd, the opinions were more varied. However, I say with pride that I won the vote, if only by a narrow margin!

As of Monday last, I have been officially PNG'd. Fortunately for me, however, PNG is also an acronym for Papua New Guinea and that's where I'll be going next. I was offered and have accepted a handshake to be the next Management Officer in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, just made her first trip to Port Moresby in what I can only imagine was a visit to prepare them for my arrival. It was thoughtful of her to do so.

The bidding process for my first mid-level job, which began on August 5th with the release of the summer bid-list, is over. My goal was to find a Management Officer's position at a smaller embassy or consulate and the position would have to be non-language designated because I didn't want to spend any more time at FSI learning another language. So, from the more than 2,000 positions available on the original bid-list, I had between twenty and twenty-five spots that met my criteria. These had to be narrowed down to fifteen because that's the maximum number of bids we are allowed to submit. I picked fifteen jobs, prioritized them according to my own personal preferences and began to lobby.

Between August 5th and the end of the bidding process I sent and received 276 bid related emails. In addition to these were the emails sent directly from posts and bureaus to my various references and the subsequent responses. I can't imagine that there were fewer than 30 reference related emails. In addition to the 300 or so emails sent and received, I made about twenty telephone calls and had four telephone interviews. Lobbying is a serious business.

Because the decision on who will be offered which job is a collaborative effort between the post and the respective bureau, a candidate has to lobby both ends of the pole. This is especially important for first time mid-level bidders because many, if not all, of the people who control the job won't know you yet. So you introduce yourself and attempt to convince a group of total strangers that you are a well qualified and serious candidate for their vacancy. It is a time consuming and frustrating process.

There is a date, in our case November 8th, before which no handshakes can be offered. This is to ensure that everyone has a fair and equal opportunity to present their strongest effort for the jobs they want. In reality, however, many posts/bureaus have already pre-selected the candidate of their choice and will let you know early on that you "haven't made our short list of candidates".  While it isn't pleasant to hear that, it is a reality and it allows you to focus your efforts on jobs that are still actually available.

Towards the end of the process I had a realistic shot at four positions. After doing some more research (which consisted of tracking down people from each of the posts and soliciting their frank opinions), I removed myself from consideration for two of the jobs and received offers of a handshake on the remaining two. Port Moresby was my top remaining choice and I accepted it. It was just a simple as that!

As the Management Officer, I'll have responsibility for the infrastructure, finances, human resources and all the other services the embassy provides to its employees. I'll have most of the embassy's locally hired staff and three or four American officers reporting to me. Oh, and I'll be responsible for the embassy yacht.

Embassy Port Moresby has a 42' motor yacht that serves as an Emergency & Evacuation vessel and can be used by Embassy staff on the weekends. The waters around the country are filled with tropical reefs and several World War II wreck sites. There are all the usual South Pacific pleasures to enjoy: scuba, fishing, sailing, drinking cleverly named beverages filled with fruit and little umbrellas, and watching spectacular sunsets. On the flip side, Papua New Guinea does get fairly negative reviews in the media due to a sky high rate of violent crime, astronomic unemployment figures, crushing poverty, cholera, cannibalism and a bit of headhunting. At least it won't be dull.

The native dress seems to consist of something called "a penis sheath made from a dried gourd" which, I assume, I will only be required to wear to formal State functions. I am uncertain as to how one goes about being fitted for his gourd. Does one size fit all or are they individually tailored? Is there a choice of linings or only whatever it is that is on the inside of a gourd? The only photo I could find online showed a gentleman wearing his with panache and a white tie. I have a white tie.

I have spoken to several colleagues who have served there and to a man, or in one case a woman, they have enjoyed the experience without reservation. The biggest drawback to being there is that it takes about 40 hours to get there from the U.S. However, there's a rumor making the rounds that Continental might begin a direct Port Moresby - Guam flight which will cut 10 hours off the journey. It just keeps getting better!

This is either the Coliseum or one of the better hotels in Papua New Guinea.

I am still working as a Consular Officer in Rome adjudicating non-immigrant visas. Things became slightly more interesting here this week when a young woman came to the security check point and put her bag on the x-ray belt. She was wearing red leather boots and a long black coat. Standard procedure in this case required her to open her coat for a quick visual inspection. When she did so, it was noted in the duty log that "she was wearing red leather boots and a bulky black coat, no other clothing .. at all". Madam, your visa is approved!

Taking the castle in Assisi by storm.

My friend Mary came down from Embassy London for a quick visit to Rome and we did all the usual tourist stuff; visited the Coliseum, drank Prosecco, toured the Vatican and ate chocolate. Much of what I've enjoyed about living in Rome is the willingness of my friends to come here to visit. We had a perfect day for a drive up to Assisi and found a great little osteria in which to have lunch. It was one of those places where you just ask the waiter to bring you whatever is good that day. The meal was incredible. After lunch I told Mary that the guest room in Port Moresby would be hers for the asking and she said, "40 hours, cholera, cannibals, and crime, are you crazy!"  Hey, I have a boat!

Mary tossing her coin in the fountain and wishing to come back to Rome. PNG... not so much!

Knowing myself as well as I do, I fear that I am already drifting into the "that's interesting, but what does it have to do with Port Moresby" mode. This seems to be a fairly common occurrence in our lifestyle because we usually find out where we're going next long before we've finished what we're doing now. I still have a lot of things to finish at work and there is still an awful lot of Italy that I haven't seen. I won't know for a while yet what my actual date of departure from Italy will be and it's dangerous to lose too much focus on the job I'm doing now because, although I have a handshake on the PNG job, I still have to be paneled for it. Paneling makes the offer final and official and it can take place any time up to two months after the handshakes are given. Situations can and do arise prior to paneling that cause handshakes to be broken so until you are paneled you don't pack your bags. After I'm paneled for the job, I can begin to work out my travel orders which will then determine when I'll leave Italy, where I'll go from here, how long I'll stay there, what training I will require and when I will finally arrive in PNG.

I'm not finished with Italy by any means, but I am beginning to imagine what life in the South Pacific will be like. I'll be there about this time next year and there's a lot of stuff that has to happen between now and then. I'll have to get ahold of a comfortable dried gourd for one thing. So, pack up your red leather boots and plan on coming down for a visit! Did I mention I'll have a yacht?