Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Monthaversary!

Hey folks,

Just a quick note this evening to point out that today is my one month anniversary of being at post! Wow... It has gone by really, really fast. At this rate, my two years will be up in no time!

Nothing really eventful happening since my last major post. On Monday I'll be going to local schools to talk about the importance of recycling and our numerous Earth Day events coming up in April. I suppose I should go learn some Spanish words that have to do with trash, recycling, noxious chemicals, etc. Piece of cake, right?

Until next time... peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Iran? Really?

Hey folks,

Just a quick note here. I was perusing the stats of my blog this evening when I noticed something really, really strange. Check it out:
Do you see the last country on the list? Yeah, that's right. It says Iran. In the last 24 hours, my blog had one visitor from the country of Iran.

I don't know who you are or why in the world you are checking my blog, but I have two things to say to you:

1) If you're in the Iranian intelligence service... bugger off.

2) If you're just a random Iranian... thank you! Peace be with you... and let me know if my site gets blocked by your government! Democracy is where it's at!

Until next time.... peace.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Swing of Things

I've been at post for almost exactly a month, and so far I'm really enjoying it here. When I arrived to my awesome house, friendly coworkers, and easy access to the States and the beach, I was reassured that I will have a great two years here.

I ended up getting to work pretty quickly after arriving. They say you should take it slow and ease into it, which I did for the first few days. But then you start to get restless, and you're ready to jump on the visa line and do what you've been in training to do for the last six months. Though I'm honestly not concerned with "the numbers", mine are already on par with the rest of the officers who have been here for a while. That's definitely a reassuring thought, because back in ConGen I always wondered whether or not I was going to get this stuff right. Not that I don't make a mistake from time to time. It's just that I feel decently confident about the decisions I'm making.

Speaking of the officers who have been here a while - wow! They're all incredible folks, and they're so eager to help out when I have a question about something. (You know, they tell you in ConGen that there's so much more to visa work than they can teach you in six weeks, especially without being in "the real world environment." That is so. incredibly. true. Add to that the fact that you're on the border, and there's a whole world of issues and procedures here that differ slightly from the rest of the world.) My coworkers are very knowledgeable about what they're doing, and they're always willing to drop what they're doing to teach me something new. As one of them put it, they're so ready to have a full compliment back on the visa line that they don't mind taking a moment to teach me if it helps me get there! They're truly wonderful teachers, and I'm looking forward to my time here with them. Though, being the new kid on the block, they will all rotate out at some point, making me one of the old timers. Yikes. I'd like to apologize now to whoever will be rotating in at post in about a year and a half, when I'm the one responsible for teaching you the ins and outs! ;)

Along with doing the full amount of visa work, I've also gotten a few of my first major portfolio assignments. The most important one, other than visas, is drafting the Consul General's weekly column that is published in the local newspapers. Oh, did I mention that it's in Spanish? Crikey. I'm really glad I majored in Spanish in college and had to write a lot of papers, otherwise I think it would be much more difficult than it is. That being said, I went through about five drafts last week before we arrived at the one that ended up being published. Here's hoping I can cut that down a bit in the coming weeks.

After writing that, I'm also responsible for the Correspondence team, which answers questions that come to our public visa email address, as well as helping to handle congressional inquiries and other dealings with the public (in regards to visas.) Add to that the task of updating the Consulate's website and making a Facebook page and you arrive at the thought that.. wow.. I've got a lot to do! Luckily, I seem to have gotten into a good work flow that will allow me to get everything most of it done on time. Here's hoping that remains true.

Today was a Mexican holiday, but it was also Dia del Turista, or Tourist Day, in one of the border towns about an hour away. I volunteered to go and represent the Consulate at the event, which ended up being a great decision and one I really enjoyed. I got there about 9:30 for a program that was supposed to start at 10AM. It actually started around 1PM. I suppose I should have expected that, but I guess I was being a bit of an eager beaver this morning. Anyway, immediately after I introduced myself to the coordinator of the event as "a Vice Consul from the Consulate General in Matamoros," I was called up on stage by the clown that was entertaining the crowd. The coordinator watched in half shock, half amusement while the clown proceeded to put no less than 6 different balloons on me, including a belt with scabbard and sword, a hat, and - to top it off - butterfly wings. As I got off the stage and went back to the coordinator, I met the president of the organization sponsoring the event. And I was still wearing my butterfly wings, hat, and belt/sword. At this point, I can only hope the local news taped over that footage of me on the stage, because at that point of the day, they didn't yet know who I was.

Anyway, later that day, I did my representational duties and met the governor of the state, various other municipal officials, and businesspeople, which was finished by a nice lunch with them all. During all of that there was also an interview with a Mexican TV crew... in Spanish. I'm seriously hoping I didn't say anything stupid. I'm sure our public affairs person will let me know tomorrow if I screwed up.

I also got hit with a number of visa questions, ranging from personal inquiries about their own cases to generic stuff. I was advised ahead of time that this would be the case, so I came prepared with some good background information and some standard answers. Though the 5th or 6th one did get a little repetitive, I still enjoyed being a "real live person" these people could talk to.

Suffice it all to say that I had a great experience on my first solo representational event, and I hope that the rest of them are similar. Minus the balloon butterfly wings, of course. Though I suppose I wouldn't mind having the sword again.

Until next time...peace.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oh, The Time (It Is) a-Changin'....

So here I sit in my living room in Matamoros, Mexico.

And I have absolutely no idea what time it is.

I'm fully aware that the United States observes Daylight Saving Time, and that the one-hour spring-forward happened last night at 2A.M. The problem is that I don't know if Mexico does that, and thus far I haven't been able to figure it out.

At this point, I'm operating on the assumption that they do, because it will suck if every time I cross the border for the next six months I have to add an hour to the current time. I'm headed into Brownsville today for some shopping, so I plan on asking the toll collector guy at the Mexican-side of the bridge what time it is. That should be a pretty official source, right?

There's really not much going on here at the moment. I'm looking forward to next Monday when we get the day off for a Mexican holiday. If any of you want to come visit, that would be a good time...

Because it's a nice lazy Sunday, I've decided to do something I haven't done before on the blog. I'm now taking requests! Leave a comment on this post and let me know something you'd like for me to blog about. It can be anything at all, and I'll do my best to respond. It's open season!

Until next time... peace.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lessons from a Newbie

Today was my first day on the visa line doing actual, real-live interviews. Although I didn't actually do near as many as my colleagues who have been doing this for a long time, I still feel pretty accomplished.

Unfortunately, I somehow managed to get every kind of bad (read: difficult) case possible. Let me make a quick list of things I learned today - things they don't teach you in ConGen, mind you. (I loved ConGen, don't get me wrong - there are just some things you don't learn until you get in the "real world.")

First. Working on the Mexican border is a whole different ballgame. There should really be a separate section of ConGen, or at least a special class, about border-specific visa work. Like, in class, when they tell you to consider a person's financial solvency (i.e. capability of even affording a trip to the U.S.) when making a determination. If you're in, say, the middle-of-nowhere Mongolia, then sure, whether or not they have the money to afford the trip can help you make your decision. Well, here at the border, it costs a whopping $0.25 cents to cross the border. Hmmm.. I'd say pretty much everyone can afford that, don't you?

Second. While comparing photos of people, there is a HUGE difference between "Not Adverse" and "Not a Valid Match." One means the pictures on the screen in front of you are not of the same person, and one means that it is the same person but that it's not a bad thing. This may or may not be how I managed to accidentally declare someone a terrorist today. Oops. (Don't worry, I fixed it later.)

Third. People who grow Sorghum making freaking incredible amounts of money.

Fourth. In reference to #1, we see just about every nationality here at the border. Today, in order and one after another, I saw at my window an Indian, a Nepalese, a Venezuelan, some Mexicans, and another Indian.

Fifth. Having an occupation of "I sell used stuff" is not uncommon.

Sixth. I'm a softie. My colleagues say my heart is too big. I put a lot of "human interest" (aka emotion) into the cases at my window. This all translates into making it very hard to say no to someone, and then feeling bad afterward. I've been told this will change quickly. ;)

Seventh. I'm a dream crusher. In regards to #5, when I say no to folks, sometimes it really does crush their dreams of America. Just call me Dream Crusher Andrew.

I think that's it for now. I have certainly learned a lot more than this, but most of it is about visa and immigration policy which I'm sure you couldn't care less about. So I'll leave it at that.

Until next time...peace.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jon Stewart Rocks

Those of you who live overseas will understand the frustration involved in trying to watch American television without actually being in America. There are numerous ways to try to do it, but none of them are perfect. Websites like Hulu, Netflix, and the major broadcasting networks all put restrictions on what they can and can't show you when you're outside the U.S.

But one man (well, two if you count his counterpart) stands above the rest. That man? Jon Stewart, of The Daily Show.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Live in Mexico Now

Wow. That's really cool to say.

I live in Mexico now.

Who knew that less than a year after graduating from university, I would end up living in a foreign country? What's more, who knew I'd be doing it on government orders? Certainly not me. (Though, admittedly, I was definitely hoping for those things to be true about this time last year!)

There are so many things to describe and tell you about. I don't really know where to start, but here goes nothing!