Lately, I’ve been having this recurring feeling that we are in the first reel of a global disaster movie.  Maybe it’s my imagination, but it sure seems like the frequency of natural disasters seems to be increasing.  Major earthquakes in Chile, China, and Haiti claimed hundreds of thousands.  Tsunami hitting Chile.  Historic flooding in Brazil.  Record heat and fires burning out of control in Russia.  Volcanic ash blanketing Europe and shutting down flights for a week.  And that’s with two full months left to the hurricane season.

With all this suffering, it’s easy to overlook the latest tragedy in Pakistan.  The relentless rains continue to expand the flooding damage.  A quick summary to date:

  • 20,000,000 people directly impacted (10% of the population)
  • Over 1,600 dead
  • 4,000,000 people homeless
  • 8,000,000 people requiring urgent assistance and medical care
  • 3,500,000 children in danger of contracting water and insect borne disease
  • Over 1,600,00 acres of crops destroyed
  • Over 200,000 livestock dead

Here’s a good map from the Guardian that shows how widespread the flooding has become (click to see it larger):

Photographs at the New York Times and the BBC underscore the suffering.  With the rains continuing to come down in Sindh Province, this is not going to be a short-term fix.  We’re talking years to recover and the aid has been coming up short.

As I just begin the preparations to spend a year in Lahore (already feeling very pessimistic about the prospects for picking up even rudimentary Urdu), I’m feeling particularly drawn to try to help.  There are a number of organizations that will ensure donations get to the people in need:  UNICEF, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, CARE, Doctors Without Borders, and OXFAM, among others.

Although these are all great organizations, I was particularly happy to see Secretary Clinton launch a new State Department program to raise funds for our relief effort.  This is where we’re sending our money.  If you want a quick way to give just a small amount, they’ve made it incredibly easy.  For a quick way to give $10, simply TEXT “FLOOD” to 27722 from your mobile phone. If you’re interested in giving more via credit card, just click the button below and fill out the online form (it took 5 minutes, max).

Hope you can help.


Official Confirmation

There is a lot going on (hence the new blackberry on belt), but I’ll hold off writing until the smoke clears.  In the meantime, I actually managed to read a whole novel.  I have no explanation for why my adult-onset ADD allows me to read non-fiction but won’t let me get all the way through a novel.  I plowed through Updike’s Rabbit series last year and have since started several other recent and not-so-recent works.  They are all sitting in strategic places around my apartment with prominent bookmarks calling out for resumption.  I still have great aspirations to finish Infinite Jest, but at almost 1100 pages it doubles as a work-out just lugging it around.  Some day.

In the meantime, I found Bapsi Sidhwa’s The Pakistani Bride a quick read.  I know so little about Pakistani history and the various cultures at play there, that I don’t feel the least bit qualified to opine on the substance of the book.  That said, it gives one (not so flattering) view of the tribal Pakistanis in the 1950s from the vantage of Lahore Punjabis and an American woman.  I’m back to non-fiction for awhile, but I’m hoping my soon-to-arrive iPad will make it easier to carry a few books around so I can make more progress on Infinite Jest.

I used to claim that I spent so much time reading at work (which I did), that reading for pleasure at the end of the day was difficult.  I do a lot less reading at work now so I guess it was all just an excuse to justify my TV addiction.  Oh well.

I do spend a chunk of time every day reviewing cables, some of which are relevant to what I’m doing now.  Others are relevant to what I’ll be doing in a year.  Still others are just interesting.  As I was doing my regular reading the other day, up popped this one (don’t worry, it’s unclassified and public knowledge):


1. Following are the names of 99 individuals included on
Foreign Service Generalist List 2009 #11.  This list was
nominated by the President on December 11, 2009,
confirmed by the Senate on March 10, 2010 and attested
by the President on March 15, 2010.  Posts are requested
to share this information with their officers.


4. For appointment as Consular Officers and Secretaries
in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of

Daniel Ross Harris, of California

I guess in between passing landmark health care reform, completing a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and overhauling the federal student loan program, the powers that be found time to confirm my class of foreign service officers.  Kind of a kick to see it in print.

The Constant Transition

I’ve always liked transition.  When I was a programmer, it was starting a new project or learning a new language.  When I was a lawyer, it was starting a new case or, four different times, taking a new job with a different law firm.  When I was a photographer, it was the change in seasons with, for example, basketball transitioning to baseball.  The foreign service is transition to the Nth degree.

Everything we touch is in a constant state of change.  Our supervisors, our support staff, our duties, our substantive focus, our living arrangements, and, of course, the city and country in which we live.  I arrived in Ottawa just over a month ago.  The week before I left Washington, in between packing and trudging through snow to run last-minute errands, I submitted a narrative requesting assignment to a very short list of hardship posts.  It was an odd request because Ottawa, by and large, is deemed to be very desirable post.  I was certainly not looking to curtail my two-year assignment to Canada because I didn’t want to live in a safe, clean, extremely comfortable Western city.

I did not, however, want to leave the tough posts for others to do and, for personal reasons, the timing works much better for me and my family if I do an unaccompanied tour sooner rather than later.  That said, the off-season bidding presented very few options for which I qualified.  I don’t speak Arabic, Urdu, Pashtu, or Dari and I don’t have the experience of several tours under my belt.  There were only a handful of jobs that I could even suggest, but they were still a long-shot given the general directive that first tour officers should not be assigned to such places.  I wrote a one-page narrative on why I thought it was a good idea, organized a very short bid list, and forgot about it.

I was thus a little bit shocked (and thrilled) to get the email.  My time in Ottawa will be cut short by a year.  I’ll spend some time back in Washington for additional training, and then I’ll be off to Lahore, Pakistan.  Although I had applied for a couple of consular jobs as part of that bidding process, my one-year tour in Lahore will not involve visas.

So, as I settle in to this new routine in Ottawa, I am reading about Lahore.  The capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, Lahore is 17 miles from the Indian border.  There are a myriad of critical political issues at play in the region and, although it is not Ottawa, Lahore has a reputation as being one of Pakistan’s most beautiful and safe urban areas, as well as being the country’s cultural center.

Ah, but the transitions keep coming.  I woke up a few days ago to CBC Radio doing the morning news.  “45 dead after coordinated bombings in Lahore, Pakistan.”  I wasn’t sure if this was a dream or real until I was fully awake and heard the whole story.  No doubt things will continue to change over the next year.  In the meantime, I’ll continue reading (currently one fiction, The Pakistani Bride, by Bapsi Sidhwa and one non-fiction, Dissent into Chaos by Ahmed Rashid) and trying to focus first and foremost on my current transition here in Canada.