Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Final Christmas Abroad

Christmas is a time that is best spent with family and friends.  Serving in the Foreign Service, most of the time those friends are new friends, made at your current assignment.  This is good, but, as Dorothy once said, there's no place like home.

I don't know how people managed to do this work prior to the great internet.  I mean...they had to write a letter, put a stamp on it and then hope that there was some kind of postal service where they were serving. Then it probably took a month or more to get to the intended recipient.  Then another month or 2 to get a response.  And forget about calling on the phone!  Talk about making a sacrifice!

I've been fortunate to really enjoy the people I've worked with.  I mean, I have to admit that there were times when I had to really work to keep my mouth shut and just nod my head, but for the most part, I've loved my job for the past 6 years.  I don't know that I would change anything or anyone about it.  I've learned lots about security and more importantly, about myself in the process.  When you're in the comfort of your hometown of Anywhere, U.S.A., the thought of chucking it all and living in who knows where might intimidate most people.  I decided to do just that in 2007 and applied to the Department of State.  Best thing I ever did for myself.

About learning about myself...The people I've met, places I've seen and things I've experienced would have never ever happened if I had not taken this job. I've knocked so many things off my Bucket List!  I've discovered the adventurous side of myself and I'm going to have to work at not letting it fade once I retire in June.  I have a few things in mind to keep me busy when I'm no longer gainfully employed.

In the meantime, I look forward to more time with three grandsons.  That will mean seeing them more than just once a year on Home Leave.  Somewhere in my budgeting, I'll have to find room for a couple of trips to Hawaii a year to see them.

Next Christmas instead of saying Merry Christmas to my son, his wife and my grandsons on Facebook, I hope to be there Christmas morning watching them open the presents from Santa and me, Yaya. That thought will carry me for the next year as I sit here and celebrate my final Christmas overseas...and in of all places...Karachi.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Here in Karachi (or anywhere overseas for that matter), it's always a treat to get mail.  Even junk mail. Some days I'd even settle for my monthly edition of AARP, that I get about once every 3 months.  They just can't find me. The guy in the mail room sends out an email that announces "You Have Mail!"  It always puts a smile on our faces when we leave the mail room with a box.  

Today was special.  Today I received a Care Package with some wonderful yummy things! 

Lynne, you made my day!  What a treat to get some goodies from back home!  One act of kindness deserves your mailbox for a little something from way of saying thanks! 

Plenty Good!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Suggestions... many have asked me just what they can send me in a care package.  I have come up with some suggestions, light weight, inexpensive and readily available.  But first, let me take this opportunity to say that so many are serving overseas and would love this kind of gift.  I remember once reading an Ann Landers column that gave an address for Care Packages for those serving overseas.  With the holidays coming, it would be wonderful for them to receive a small care package also. Perhaps the Red Cross knows of an organization who can get a box of goodies to others serving at hardship posts around the world.  I don't know if it's possible but it certainly would be nice.

OK, here are a few things that would put a smile on my face....and  again...thank you so much!

I have no Christmas decorations.  :(
Any scents are great! Now that it has cooled off, they might arrive in the same shape they leave!

Chocolate...need I say more?

 We have mosquitoes here and Dengue fever is common. 

Red and black "Red Vines" licorice and jujubes...naturally!! (Target has both the licorice and jujubes.) :) 

For some reason, Italian seasoning is just not something sold in Pakistan!
Thanksgiving and Christmas are this for stuffing!

Great snack!

A mainstay for me...makes great chicken fajitas!

I threw away my last old wooden spoon...and who can't function without a wooden spoon?

Friday, November 08, 2013

Update on Care Package Address

Jeez, as soon as I posted my address, I received my new one for Karachi.  It's almost the same...Unit 6150 Box 142, DPO AE 09814.  Anything sent to the other address, which was in Islamabad, will be forwarded to me.

To those who asked for my address, a heartfelt thanks to you!  :o)

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Care Packages??

I've been asked about an address to send a 'care package' for me.  What a  nice thing to do!  My address is Debi Demetrion, Unit 6160 Box 3057, DPO AE 09812.

Thanks in advance!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Update 2...About to be Unstuck in Islamabad

Things are about to change.

There are several of us here in Islamabad, having been evacuated from Lahore back in early August.  Everyone is waiting on a memo from Washington DC, among other things, guaranteeing credit for a full term served here as well as the onward assignment that many were able to get by volunteering for service in Pakistan.  So far, no news.

My situation is a bit different from everyone else's.  I retire in June and the probability of me finding another job in the State Department (hopefully overseas) was slim.  I had just about resigned myself to winding up my career in DC, stuck in some mundane job, just waiting for June.

If you happen to be an employee of the government, you know that things never happen quickly.  Never. Proposals are submitted, sit in someone's inbox, reviewed, thought about, passed on to the next person for review/approval/rejection...and on and on.  We seem to wait forever for something and then once it is either approved or denied, we have to remember just what we requested in the first place.  It's just the way things are.

Two weeks ago, I was told about a position in Karachi that fit my needs perfectly.  The incumbent was leaving very soon and her replacement wasn't arriving until June.  And it was in the Regional Security Office, which is the section I've worked in all 3 tours.  Perfect!  We started the ball rolling and thanks to everyone here in Islamabad who didn't let an email sit in their inbox for more than a few minutes, I will probably be leaving for Karachi sometime next week.  The really good news is my house in Lahore will be packed out and I will be reunited with all my worldly possessions!  I can finally get rid of the 6 outfits I've been wearing since August 9th.

The best part of all this is that I finally know where I'll be for the next 7 months.  That's been the hardest part of this evacuation...not knowing.

In the meantime, I'm organizing my 6 outfits and the things I've accumulated during the time I've been in Islamabad and getting ready to move to Karachi.  I wonder if I'll need a fire permit to burn those outfits...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Update...Still Stuck in Islamabad

It is Day 36 of my Ordered Departure from Lahore.  Islamabad is definitely not Lahore!  I miss the people I work with, the culture, the massive traffic jams of tuk-tuks, cyclists, cars, buses, men on bicycles, animal drawn carts...yes, I miss it all.  And I miss my own bed.

I need to add another item to my previous post on what to grab if you're ever told to pack up to leave.  Just assume you might, just might not return.  Take important documents, expensive jewelry, the bulky laptop in addition to the iPad.  It's looking more and more like we might never return and my household could be packed up by strangers.  I left documents in my house that I would need immediately upon arrival back home in Texas.  If they were all packed up with everything else, I might not see them for months (the Pakistan government is holding our shipments for at least 90 days and then it's another 6 weeks on a ship).  So, either scan everything on to a thumb drive, updating it as often as necessary or keep all documents in one place, like a binder with sheet protectors.  Make sure it's easy to grab and go .Depending on where you are assigned, you might be instructed to always have a "go bag."  Heed those instructions.  In fact, no matter where you are, you should have a go bag.  Even if you're living back in the States.  It's just good common sense to have important things in one place in case of a fire, earthquake or some other disaster.  Fortunately for me, I got a call last weekend from one of my co-workers (Pakistani) who was going to make the trip up here.  He asked me if there was anything I wanted.  I said yes!  The next morning, he called me from inside my house and I walked him through my entire house, collecting important things.  He kept asking me if I wanted more clothes.  I said no, Macy's has already taken care of that!  That night, the driver delivered 2 suitcases, fully packed with 'stuff.'  Hopefully, this will all blow over but if it doesn't, at least I'm sleeping easier knowing I have the things from my house.

On a brighter note, in 2 weeks, I'm off to my 3rd R&R and will visit good friends in Madrid, Spain.  Getting away from the threats of terrorists will be a good thing for my mental attitude.  And speaking of that, my attitude throughout this has been good.  Sure, I worry about my things, my time left in Pakistan (I am counting on the $$ I make serving here to buy a house) and my safety.  It can't go on past June.  Others had barely arrived in Lahore when we were off to Islamabad.  They have 1 or even 2 years left on their tour. 

Anyway, back to Madrid.  I have missed photography since I've been here.  I can't wait to get pictures of the sights of Spain.  The only photographs I've take here in Islamabad have been with my iPhone of (I am bad...) carpet #19, #20 and #21.  I have a good excuse...there isn't much to do besides shop here!  And these really weren't expensive!  I will definitely have the most beautiful floor coverings in Fort Worth!  I'll be going back in April to buy a house and you can be sure I'll be looking for one with hardwood floors. No carpet for me...I have gorgeous carpets!  I wonder if they sell carpets in Madrid.  Let's hope not. 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Evacuation? Ordered Departure? Take my Advice…

As things turned out, all non-essential personnel have been evacuated from Lahore, Pakistan to Islamabad, including me.  I’ve been this route before and thought I had learned my lesson.  Not quite.  So I thought I would share some tips just in case any of my Foreign Service readers ever fall victim to an evacuation of any kind.

Pack wisely.  That means the biggest suitcase you own.  You don’t need to fill it but you’ll have room for purchases just in case you are displaced to some location with good retail opportunities.  That would be shopping!  If you need to, take a second one and split the contents between the 2. Even though I was sent to Islamabad, Pakistan, there are stilll lots to see and buy here.

Prepare for Longer Stay Than You Think.  Even though you might be told this is a ‘temporary situation’ and things will be ‘evaluated on a daily basis,’ it could turn into weeks. We all agree that everyone wants us back in our regular jobs quickly, but some things take time.  Prepare for it with enough clothes, meds, toiletries, undies, snacks, etc. that you think you’ll need for a longer time.  Believe me, after 4 weeks wearing the same 3 outfits, you’ll be ready to burn them!

Boredom will set in.  Depending on where you are relocated to, there may not be much to do.  You might end up staying in something like the ipods here in Islamabad.  They are actually repurposed containers like what things are transported in on freighters.  They look nice inside but after a while, you will feel closed in.  Bring books, games, crafts, knitting…anything to help combat boredom in the evenings.

Power Up!  For whatever power toys you bring, don’t forget your power cords!  I know this sounds silly, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends comment that they forgot the cord for their camera or their iPad.  Use the bed in an extra bedroom to ‘stage’ your packing.  Don’t put anything in the suitcase until the last minute so you can see just what you have.  Put all power cords in a zip lock or attach them to the item they support…whatever manner that will insure you don’t forget them. Make sure everything is fully charged before you leave in case you want to surf the net on your smart phone or in case you miss flights or a vehicle breaks down.

Pepto Up!  Don’t forget your meds.  If you think you’ll be gone a week, take the entire bottle with you.  You may end up somewhere where the food doesn’t agree with you so take something for stomach problems.  Make sure you have plenty of any meds you take on a regular basis.  Best case, you could be back home in a week.  Worst case, you might never return to your post.  Don’t get caught trying to get more meds in an unfamiliar place.

E.T., Phone Home.  It’s so important to keep family and friends back home informed on how you are, where you are and how things are.  If you have a blog, keep updating it. If you can call them, do it as often as you can.  Send emails daily.  You may know you’re just fine but those at home will worry about you, the reason you were evacuated and why the heck you aren’t back yet.  A quick update on whatever social media you use is also a good idea. 

I Owe, I Owe, It’s Off on Ordered Departure I Go!  Try to log on and check your credit cards before you leave.  You never know how good (or secure) the connection will be when you arrive at your point of evacuation.  There are always computers for us DOS people, but you could be so busy that paying that MasterCard bill may slip your mind.  And make sure you have a check or debit card.  Most Embassies can cash a check for you and/or have an ATM machine around.  Some countries only accept Visa, some only MasterCard and some both.  Be prepared…nothing worse than ending up with no cash.

Rain Keeps Falling On My Head.  Take an umbrella or rain suit.  In areas where there are rainy seasons, it could be sunny one minute and a downpour the next.  Be prepared for a change in weather.

I hope these tips help you if you ever find yourself being whisked off to the airport in the middle of the night.  Being prepared for anything will help make this kind of disruption in your life a little easier to endure.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

I Need a Crystal Ball...

Serving at a location listed as a ‘hardship’ post can sometimes be a pleasant surprise.  That’s how Lahore, Pakistan has turned out for me.  I’m now 14 months into my 2 year tour and have really enjoyed life here.

Sure, there are the expected hardships that you won’t encounter living in the U.S.  The load shedding is at the top of the list.  The power company shuts off all power to the city for everyone on a daily basis.  In some areas, there is only about 6 hours of power in every 24 hours, and in already unbearable heat, no air conditioning or water (water is delivered by pumps) makes life very hard.  The lack of green leafy vegetables for most of the year is another hardship for someone like me who loves salads.  The list goes on but currently, something else has jumped to the forefront of this list.  That would be the fear that your workplace is targeted by terrorists.

For the past few days, there has been a very serious threat of terrorism and it is being taken very seriously.  The Consulate here is normally closed on Sundays, so the mass closing of Embassies and Consulate in this region didn't affect us.  We did have a 2 hour delay in pickups by the shuttle that brings us from our homes to the Consulate and some additional security measures put in place.  We aren't sure of what the days ahead will bring.  Anything could be possible.   

Last September, as a result of the anti-Muslim film and the protests that followed, we were evacuated to Dubai and spent 10 days there.  It wasn't bad but I would have rather been home in my own bed.  We had a taste of what it was like to be whisked away, out of the path of danger.

This is transfer season and most of those assigned here have left for their next assignment.  Those of us who are still here and remember being flown to Dubai in the middle of the night already have our ‘go bag’ packed and ready to grab.  Just in case.  It’s not all that bad to be evacuated…you just hope it’s for a short period of time.  You aren't allowed to return to post until the people in Washington D.C. say you can return.  And after Benghazi, no one is in a hurry to put any of us back in harm’s way.   

So here we are, wondering just what will happen with this latest threat.  We’re off Thursday and Friday, which brings Ramadan to a close. Many are out of town and the few of us left here are hoping that we don’t need to ‘defend the Alamo’ or prepare for a quick ordered departure!  I’m sure we’ll be fine, but thinking about it makes us more mentally prepared to handle whatever might come our way.

Lahore…the final chapter of my short 6 year career in the Foreign Service.   Six years ago, if anyone had told me I would spend 2 years in Pakistan at my age (a very young 64 years old), I would have cracked up!  No way would I have dreamed that I would be here, during these turbulent times, and would have found it even more unbelievable that I would say I enjoyed it!

Pakistani kids signal for Peace...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Energy Crisis in Pakistan

Here in Pakistan, there’s an energy crisis. From my limited understanding, no energy is imported.  It is all produced here in Pakistan.  And there is not enough.  Let me introduce you to a new word.  Load shedding.  You won’t find it in Webster’s.  I had never heard of the term before coming to Pakistan.  Fortunately, we have very large Cummins generators in all the homes. When the power goes off, there’s a 10 second pause and then that generator kicks in and with the roar of a diesel truck, it spews black smoke, supplying our homes with power for air conditioning, water and lights. 
My generator

Imagine how it is in the summer when the temperature hoovers at 117 all day and might get down to 100 at night.  Then imagine all your electricity turned off for 12 out of 24 hours a day. No wait…make that 20 out of 24 hours a day.  Your water is delivered to you by an electric pump so when you have no electricity, you have no water.  Sleep is impossible and with no way to cool off, people just do what they can.  Imagine trying to keep infants cool. Imagine the number of heat related deaths.

There is no quick fix.  This has been an issue for years here and the last government did nothing to improve this.  The newly elected officials have said a fix is 1-2 years away. 
There is a wonderful leather shop here in Lahore called Royal Leather and we are all having leather things made... purses, wallets, jackets, backpacks and anything made of leather from Qamber. Just give him a picture and he can copy it!  Yesterday we talked about how this crisis is affecting his business.  He has a second shop where the leather is received and processed, making it ready for his shop to turn it in to beautiful products.  With the summer heat, the other shop, employing 500 people, can’t work the hours needed to get the leather to Qamber.  So, as a result, he has to call his customers, like Ikea for one, and tell them that instead of delivering products in June, it will be October.  He didn't say for sure, but I got the impression he’s lost some orders.  One of the things he makes is the leather cushions for the Poang (Poang Chair Ikea) chairs that Ikea sells.  I had never seen one of these chairs but I now have gorgeous distressed brown leather cushions for the chair and ottoman and can’t wait to buy the chair when I get home.  

Most supermarkets and other large businesses can afford the large generators necessary to keep their registers working and the lights on during these black outs.  I was in the local Hyperstar grocery store yesterday when all the lights went out and about 10 seconds later, they came back on.  Independent businesses like Qamber’s can’t afford the luxury of one of those large generators, let alone the gas it takes to run it 20 hours a day. 

I feel sorry for my guards. I have 4, 2 contract guards and 2 others who are retired police. They live in a small apartment-like room on the 3rd floor of my house.  One of each are on duty guarding my house and me around the clock.  Every morning, I give them a plastic bottle of frozen water and collect the one from the day before. They put this bottle into a large jug filled with water so they have cool water to drink.  We have an electric water cooler outside for them but…well, it’s only cool a couple of hours a day and the reservoir only holds about 3 glasses of cold water.  Every home has a mobile ‘swamp cooler’ in the carport but it’s not that great and the air it puts out is just slightly less than body temp.  The contract that the Consulate holds with the local guard company clearly states what we can and can’t do for them.  They are supposed to provide for the guards but very little seems to be provided.  The other day, I took them all bowls of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.  I couldn't understand a word they were saying but they were all smiling.
My guard entering his post

Such is life in this third world country, unable or unwilling to improve the quality of life for its citizens by solving an energy problem. With all the heat here, you would think that someone would have gotten on board with a solar energy program by now.  Maybe they have but things move very slowly here. 

July is when the temperature begins to cool off. July will be when people here get a good night’s sleep and children will not spend the night covered in sweat.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Other Blogs...Photography and Jewelry

I have 2 other blogs.  One is for photographs only and the other is to share the beaded jewelry I make and when I retire, will offer for sale.  They are:   and

Both are hobbies that I hope to turn into money-making hobbies when I retire.  

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Pakistan Purchases...With 15 Months to Go

For those of us who are serving in the Foreign Service, life away from family, friends and the comforts of life in the U.S. can be a big adjustment.  When we pack out to head off to places unknown, many of us struggle to figure out what to bring with us.  We are all limited to a certain weight of what we bring, called our HHE (household effects), so we have to be careful just what we choose to bring.  You learn quickly that you WILL accumulate lots of 'stuff' in each country you serve and if you don't take that into consideration, you could end up with a hefty bill for whatever is above and beyond your allotted weight.

I can't remember exactly what my HHE weight limit is, but I am certain I'm not close to it, even with all the carpets I bought in Oman.  Here in Lahore, there are many opportunities to spend my hard earned money!  I've added a couple of carpets to my collection.  I just purchased a gorgeous hand carved wooden screen.  It's going to look great when I settle back in the States in June 2014.

We went to a shop where this man had lots of very old items, some reproductions of old items and some items we see every day here.  On motorcycles, men deliver milk in these large brass containers.  We all love them and I had to have some myself. They come in small, medium, large and dipping cup.  I have 3 of the 4.

There's also a never ending supply of pashminas to buy here and I've helped out the economy here by buying more than my share!  They also make wonderful gifts.

Another of my favorite things is the copper spice box, below.  This is probably a reproduction but I love it. Inside it is a round tray and 6 copper containers in 3 different styles that hold spices or teas.  This is how spices were transported years ago in this region.  I love it!

But I have just received my favorite purchase while serving overseas.  I am now the proud owner of a completely restored 1962 Vespa!  For now, it sits in the corner of my living room but I will fire it up enough to keep things in good working order inside it.  And hopefully, find a way to ride it occasionally on some enclosed safe place.  It won't be on the streets of Lahore, that's for sure!  So....what do you think?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Checking In...

It's been a while since I last posted anything here...not sure how long but I feel like it's time to check in.  Life in Lahore, Pakistan isn't too bad.  Sure, I don't enjoy all the comforts of home in the U.S., but it's been so long since I've been 'home,' things are starting to seem normal.  I do miss having my car and the ability to just back out of the driveway (as my guards hold the gate open as they hold their weapon ready to use it if necessary) and drive around.  Going through the military checkpoints is becoming routine. I don't even panic when one of the guards makes us 'break the seal' or open the door and ask to see IDs.  And I'm thrilled when I see lettuce is at the grocery store and there isn't slime on it. in Pakistan!

Serving abroad has a way of putting you in a situation to get something you might not have otherwise.  There's shopping for things you see at Pier 1 or World Market...but paying a fraction of the price.  And when I served in Muscat, Oman, I discovered carpets. Oh, did I ever discover carpets!  I  now have 13 hand woven carpets in storage. And I love every one of them. You're also sometimes lucky enough to score big, like I did.  Here in Lahore, there is a body shop.  The owner, Imran, has a side business, or hobby, not sure which, of restoring vintage Vespas.  Once this was discovered, it was like a chain by one, we ordered our Vespas.  First was a red one, then a baby blue version and then a maroon scooter.  Then came my turn.  I decided on black...but not just any black.  It's black with silver metal flakes.  And to be really original, I was put in touch with 2 young Pakistani artists and together, we came up with artwork that reflected a Pakistani tradition called Truck Art or Jinga. This makes for very colorful trucks on the road.

You might have seen documentaries on TV about Pakistani truck art.  They are usually very ornately decorated with little to no background visible...totally covered in artwork.  When you see them close up, you can see that it is truly an art form.  I'm told it can cost anywhere from $5000 up to paint a truck. Lots of color, small flowers, calligraphy, name it and it is painted on trucks.

For my Vespa, I decided to bring home a bit of this art form with me.  It took several meetings with the 2 artists, but I think the result is well worth the time spent with them.  I didn't want my scooter to look like the examples above...I just wanted a little bit of artwork on it.  I'm thrilled with the result! Below is what the Vespa looked like when he bought it...

This is what it looked like once he stripped off the old paint and started the body work.  Everything was done by hand, and I don't mean electric sanders or anything.  On one visit, the worker was using a metal file to smooth over an area.

And the final product...

My biggest problem or rather issue is that I can't ride it here and I have another 15 months left here in Pakistan.  Imran has told me that whenever I want to ride it he will come and get it and take it back to his business and let me ride it around the property.  Right now it's in my house, under the staircase looking like it belongs there.  When I retire, this baby will go with me back to Fort Worth and I'll have a blast riding it around town.  With gas prices what they are, I'll love getting 85 miles to the gallon!