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The Dry-Cleaning Reality of the Foreign Service

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The reality is that we don’t get our dry-cleaning paid for by the Canadian taxpayers – that is an incredible untruth. Anyone who says that all diplomatic representatives for Canada get free dry-cleaning is lying or grossly misinformed. The reality is that when we go abroad, some of us have to wear bullet-proof vests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo we have staff quarters? Absolutely. Do we get them at no charge? No. With the exception of special cases (such as living here on a heavily-guarded compound) we pay rent equal to what Canadians pay at home.

Do we travel to exotic lands and have great adventures? Without question.  Many of us go abroad with our families who drop everything to come with us. Husbands and wives give up careers and miss out on birthdays, holidays and close friends to follow their spouse or parents abroad.

Minister Baird Greeted with Reality In Latin America

Minister Baird met with protesting Foreign Service (FS) officers during his tour of Latin America. During his short stay in one country, he was met with protesters near the airport.  As he wrapped up his Latin American tour FS officers presented a letter to him during the opening of the new consulate. The letter contained the union’s position and key points regarding the strike. If you would like more information on the issues, go to the PAFSO website (make sure to check out Myths Vs. Facts) and follow us on Twitter @PAFSOAPASE (#dipstrike and #ForeignServiceReality).

A Foreign Service Officer meets with and presents Minister Baird with an official letter regarding PAFSO's position.

Minister Baird receives an official letter regarding PAFSO’s position from a Foreign Service Officer.

Minister Baird met with protesters while visiting Argentina on his Latin American tour.

Minister Baird meets with protesters while on his Latin American tour.

Saviez-vous que…

And today, part 2 of Did you know…

Some more random fact about the people who serve Canada at home and abroad.

49of members are aged 30-39. Nous sommes jeunes. Mais, pas moi.🙂

6_ET_Stat_44 are in a relationship and have dependent children.

12 of members have a law degree.

32have been the target of verbal, physical or sexual harrassment in the workplace.

11ont été victimes d’agressions physiques à l’étranger.

31have had only one posting so far in their career.

6des membres ont eu 6-10 affectations.

71 have had one or more postings at missions with hardships 3-5. (les examples – Niveau 3 – Ankara, Turquie, Niveau 4 – Nairobi, Kenya, Niveau 5 – Lagos, Nigéria)

30have spent 3-5 years abroad.

58%indicate that their career in the Foreign Service has greatly impacted their relationship with their children negatively.

61report that the quality of their children’s education was significantly lower than that available in Canada due to a career in the Foreign Service.

51ont été incapables de revenir au Canada pour assister à des funérailles, ou quand un membre de la famille était gravement malade.

13Have been unable to take their partner/children with them on posting because of the dangerous conditions.

So there you go. Some more random facts that give readers a little insight into the life of a Foreign Service Officer.

The official diplomatic uniform and mode of travel in Afghanistan. Not quite tuxedos and limousines.

The Reality of Moving

The following is a re-post of a blog by a foreign service officer. You can find the original, by “Cardommomma” at http://cardamomma.com/author/mommaandmax/

As a mom, I have questioned  whether my decision to pack up the family and move around the world will cause harm.  I have felt incredible guilt for the pain I am causing family by taking their loved ones  so far away.

Let’s Just Move Around the World

Just over a year ago, having just learned I was pregnant and with a one year old, I thought that preparing for a move to the other side of the world, kids and husband in tow, would be a breeze.  With starry eyes, I accepted my first posting. I thought of the exciting work I would do, the spicy and delicious food I would eat, the sights I would see, the opportunities for my career and my family.  An eternal optimist, I imagined myself with my baby and perfectly behaved toddler, setting off on this globe-living adventure with the ease of an evening trip to the grocery store (ok – maybe I’m exaggerating. I’m not that naive, and my toddler is far from perfectly behaved).  I didn’t completely think about what moving to the other side of the world really meant.

My baby girl Freya will be 6 months old this week and my son Max 27 months.  The world as they know it is about to be turned utterly and completely upside down.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of emotions and chaos, to-do lists and nagging.  My son has pointed at the empty walls and insisted that they are “broken” and we should “fix it”.  In the last month alone we’ve spent over 40 hours in the car over short weekends trying to say our good-byes to family and friends who although have every intention of visiting, might not.  Today, I wiped away tears as I thanked our babysitter who has been like family to our son.  I’m scared of the day when he realizes that his little world has completely changed and he won’t be going to play with her and his gang of toddlers.

I’ve insisted that Skype is a great replacement for face to face visits. It isn’t, and I know it. They do, too.

Max has been sick twice from the heat in the last few months and we are moving to a place where temperatures often reach the high 40s.  He has a nagging cough that I worry might only get worse with the pollution. As a mom, I have questioned  whether my decision to pack up the family and move around the world will cause harm.  I have felt incredible guilt for the pain I am causing family by taking their loved ones  so far away.

For awhile we did not know whether my husband would be working and whether we would face the reality of most families in this career as a one income family. We have been incredibly fortunate that he has gotten a job.  Renting our house has not been as easy as we had thought.  Trying to keep it spic and span while an endless stream of potential renters come and go has been a challenge in itself.

But, when I tell my son that we will be taking a plane tomorrow, his eyes light up and a smile spreads across his face.  I know that we have raised him so far to be an adaptable and flexible. I know that [the country to which I am going] is going to be full of wonderful opportunities and within hours of landing he will be running about, jet-lagged and dopey, but building new friendships and pointing out all the new wonderful sights and sounds.

My daughter has been my side kick. Attending meetings and language training with me.  An easy-going little girl smiling and charming everyone she meets.

I know that my husband will settle into his job and that it might just be the perfect thing.

I know that I will hit the ground running and not look back.

I know that our time away will fly by, and although we’ll miss our friends and family in Canada we’ll have memories and stories to tell that will last a lifetime.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate to have so many wonderful friends, family and colleagues who have supported us and helped us in the past few months, and whether we are next door, or a world away they will always be there.

I know that those friends and family will forgive me for being stressed and scatter-brained.

I know that when this assignment comes to an end, I’ll be anxiously dreaming of the next one.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate to have a job that gives me such amazing opportunities and allows me to do something I love.

I know that people will come visit and they will learn and experience something they might have never thought possible.

I know that this experience will bring us closer together as a family, and we will be stronger for it.

But for now, I know I need a good night sleep. Tomorrow is a big day, and we have a very long way to go.

Just Another Day In The Foreign Service Reality

Protestors outside of my staff quarters in Asia.

Neither fair nor balanced protestors outside of my staff quarters in Asia.

Une autre réalité

Je me souviens parfaitement des cigarettes ou portes ouvertes parfois laissées par les services secrets qui « visitaient » ma résidence en mon absence

Mon premier poste à l’étranger  était dans un pays arabe,  ou j’étais  la première femme à occuper le poste de déléguée commerciale au sein de l’Ambassade du Canada dans le pays. Je me souviens très bien de mon arrivée à l’aéroport, voilée de mon hidjab et avec mon roupoush, uniforme qui allait être le mien durant trois années à chaque jour, beau temps mauvais temps. C’était le lendemain de la date où nous avion rappelé l’Ambassadeur, en plein cœur de la crise diplomatique. Durant les trois années passées dans ce pays, j’aurai d’ailleurs accumulé 2 chargés d’affaires et 3 ambassadeurs.

Durant les trois années qui ont suivi, j’ai beaucoup appris, entre autre au niveau du travail mais aussi à grandement apprécier la culture et la langue locale. Ceci dit, j’ai aussi appris à m’habituer avec des situations qui pour la plupart des Canadiens seraient inimaginables. Je me souviens parfaitement des cigarettes ou portes ouvertes parfois laissées par les services secrets qui « visitaient » ma résidence en mon absence, des portes en acier trempé qui fermaient ma chambre, de l’échelle de corde et du sac à dos de denrées d’urgence devant me servir en cas de siège ou de tremblements de terre afin de me sauver durant la nuit, des sessions hebdomadaires de tests de radio ondes-courtes, des cliquetis de l’écoute sur la ligne téléphonique quand je parlais avec ma mère, des dizaine des sacs diplomatiques à escorter durant la nuit, des soirées et fins de semaines de surveillance de chantier de construction lors des travaux anti-séismes dans l’Ambassade, des indices de pollution si élevés que les banques, les bureaux gouvernementaux et les écoles fermaient parfois pour plusieurs jours, des forces armées qui lors de mes voyages hors de la ville me suivaient à chaque détour de la route, pensant être discrets mais sans succès, des secousses sismiques, de l’état des routes de montagnes, de la difficulté d’avoir accès à la plupart des produits, de la quasi impossibilité d’avoir accès à internet, à la télévision, à des produits culturels tels que cinéma, livres, théâtres, etc.   Je me souviens aussi que s’il y avait des fêtes où parfois avec de la chance on trouverait du vin ou des boissons procurées illégalement par nos hôtes à l’insu des autorités locales, à chaque fois on gardait le hidjab à portée de main, vivant dans la peur que les lieux soient envahis par la police religieuse et que tous soient emportés pour interrogation et accusation au bon vouloir des autorités.

Mon second poste connaît une autre réalité. Ici, on vit avec une liberté beaucoup plus grande et je n’ai pas l’impression d’être écoutée ou suivie à chaque instant. Je peux également me promener où bon me semble sans me couvrir les cheveux, les bras et les jambes. Ceci dit, la pollution et le traffic sont ici aussi très problématiques alors que la violence elle croit chaque jour. Ce mois-ci, un édifice résidentiel de mon quartier a été pris d’assaut par des bandits armés, un homme immolé dans sa voiture par des voleurs à quelques coins de rue de notre Consulat général, des conjointes de collègues américains enlevés par des bandits, une avec son bébé, pour soutirer de l’argent, une station de train entre ma résidence et le bureau évacué par les forces policières fin de procéder à l’arrestation de bandits armés qui menaçaient les passagers, une femme décédée lorsque poussée sur les rails par la foule, un café à 200m de chez moi envahi par des bandits armés, le beau-père d’un collègue pris en otage pendant 15heures par un groupe de 5 bandits droguées et armés en échange de quelques centaines de dollars, et j’en passe…. Nous tentons de vendre la résidence officielle car le quartier où elle est située, autre fois chic et bien fréquenté, est aujourd’hui envahie par les criminels venus des alentours: gardes assassinés, voiture prises en filature par des gens armés, maisons privées envahies par des groupes de bandits, etc. La Consulat général revoit aujourd’hui ses mesures de sécurité, tant au niveau des déplacements et transports qu’au niveau de la sécurité personnelle dans nos maisons et voitures, afin de répondre à la situation.  Ceci dit, même les gens les mieux nantis et les mieux protégés ne sont pas à l’abri…

Et c’est sans compter la difficulté d’établir et de maintenir une famille dans ces conditions…

Did you know…

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In November 2012, PAFSO undertook a major survey of all members, here are some random facts for the day.

48percent250 of FS have at least one Masters degree?

24 of FS speak at least two other languages (excluding English or French) well enough to carry on a conversation.

38 of FS took a pay cut of at least 5% when they joined the Foreign Service.

40 of FS had their spouse quit a job in order to accompany them on posting.

86 checked their Blackberry work e-mail outside of work hours. (Certainly not since work to rule I hope.)

17have experienced a robbery or break-in while on posting.

27 have experienced verbal abuse while at work (not from coworkers).

32 have suffered adverse long-term health effects attributed to post conditions.

12percent_GT_buttonhave suffered traumatic psychological event requiring treatment and/or contributing to long-term mental illness.

35 have had a terrorist attack in their city/country during a posting.

32 1 have had a natural disaster in their city/country during a posting.

46 have had incidences of civil disobedience in their city/country during a posting.

25 2 have had incidences of armed conflict in their city/country during a posting.

Stay tuned for more interesting tidbits in the weeks to come.

Minister Baird Speaks With Striking Foreign Service Officers

Min. Baird speaks with Canadian diplomat Jean-Christian Brillant about the Foreign Service union's issues.

Min. Baird speaks with Canadian diplomat Jean-Christian Brillant about the Foreign Service union’s issues.

For more information on the issues, please refer to

Myths vs Facts – Mythes vs Faits

and follow us on Twitter

@PafsoApase #Foreignservicereality

A Child’s Foreign Service Reality

I also wonder what the long term impacts this lifestyle will have on my daughter

My daughter is turning four this August. In her short life so far, she has experienced living in a country where she would walk past guards armed with machine guns on every street corner on her way to the park each day. She was not even eighteen months old then. She also enjoyed much attention and affection from a people who love and cherish children, and learned the names and flavors of some amazing tropical fruits such as lula and pitaya.

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Our lives were then directed towards a country that quickly spun out of control and we were redirected to a third country. After two years here, my daughter is used to seeing cows, pigs, goats, dogs, horses and sometimes camels on the road. She is used to the chaotic traffic, the fifty degree hot summers, the monsoon rains bringing forth dengue carrying mosquitoes, and seeing children as young as herself begging in the street. She is also used to visiting temples and ruins, dancing to bhangra music and eating fresh curry leaves from the tree.

It is a life rich in experience and yet it comes with a heavy price. Unlike her parents, she will rarely live close to her extended family and will not have years to bond with her grandparents, cousins,  aunts and uncles. She will miss birthdays and Christmas and other family gatherings. She will not have childhood friends with whom she will graduate with at the same school. She will not have memories of living in the same home for many years and will not be in Canada each year to witness the vibrant shifting colours of maple leaves in autumn nor the crisp stillness after a fresh snowfall.

Instead, as a child of a Foreign Service officer, she will have to adjust to new schools every few years, make new friends and then have to say goodbye, continuously pack up and move to different homes, environments and cultures; all the while having to figure out the new rules and cultural norms of each place. She will have to make do with Skype for talking to her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and receive their hugs and kisses virtually.

I am proud of representing our country abroad and serving the public to the best of my abilities, but I also wonder what the long term impacts this lifestyle will have on my daughter and whether the pros will outweigh the cons? I wonder if she will retain a strong connection to her self, to her family and to Canada despite the constantly shifting cultural and social landscapes?

A common sight every 2-4 years for Foreign Service Officers.

A common sight every 2-4 years for Foreign Service Officers.

I consider the many personal sacrifices my family and I must make for my career and wonder if it is all worth it in light of the current climate where the government is refusing to negotiate with us in good faith? We have been without a contract since 2011. I wonder if those in charge know what it is like to be a Foreign Service mother or father having to uproot their children every two to four years and be away from their loved ones in Canada? For our level of professionalism, dedication on the job, and the many sacrifices that we make, asking the government to provide equal pay for equal work seems a very reasonable request.

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