Radioactive Bananas

As Thad continues, on a daily basis, to unravel the intricacies of Mandarin Chinese, occasionally making his teachers cringe with pronouncements such as “The puppy must depend on the bitch,” I have also occasionally ventured into the buildings that comprise FSI (the Foreign Service Institute). I can’t speak for generations of spouses before me, but one thing that the Foreign Service is really doing well now is making sure that the accompanying family members of the officers are well-educated.  They have an entire department set up for this purpose alone.  Through these offices, I have been able to sign-up for and attend an array of classes, including ones on what life is “really” like in the Foreign Service and one all about the details of the various allowances the government has set aside for diplomatic officers, but doesn’t necessarily hand out unless they are requested.  Good information to have in my back pocket.

My time of casually attending these classes is quickly drawing to a close though, as the last day of October is not only my least favorite holiday in the whole world, but also the start to my scheduled Chinese classes. (Seriously- I preferred getting smacked with a cow stomach blown up like a balloon during Carnival when I lived in the Dominican Republic to the abundance of costumed teenagers standing at my door looking for a candy handout and the ubiquitous “sexy” anything and everything. For women the country-over, this seems to be a holiday designed to let out any latent street-walker leanings.  As a side note- little trick-or-treaters are fabulous and cute!)

A couple of weeks and a huge list of possible classes to attend don’t mesh well, so I quickly signed up for the ones that I could squeeze into my remaining time.  Information gleaned off of building-mates in the elevator and other spouses lead me to believe that the one “must-have” class was the Security Overseas Seminar.  It is designed to be a two day course covering basic security concerns for posts worldwide.  It sounded important.  It sounded practical.  It sounded interesting.  I signed up.

It was all of those things and more.  It was terrifying.  It was paranoia-creating. It should be renamed “101 Ways to Die in the Foreign Service,” although I am not sure this would draw the same clientele that the current, mundane “Security Overseas Seminar” does.  (The course is required for all diplomats, so Thad does get the pleasure of attendance at some point this winter.)

Rather than going into great detail about all of the sessions and the possibilities for harm that await us abroad, I have compiled a short list of things I learned over my two days of attendance.

***In case of situation where decontamination is necessary, my clothes will be cut off of me by trained staff. I will then be soaped down in an effort to get all contamination off my body.  Contamination tends to cling to hair.  I will be given a sponge and told to take care of these areas myself.  If I do not do a sufficient job, I will be given a second chance.  If again this cleaning is not adequate, the staff will instruct me to take a wide stance and look at the sky (apparently this minimizes embarrassment) while they do the job for me. This is good to know.  I will make sure my first two attempts are quite thorough!

***Radiation is a daily part of life. Our TVs and microwaves give off radiation. We all travel and get doses of radiation from the airport.  People should not freak out each time FOX News goes on a 24-hour news cycle binge about cellphone radiation.  Even bananas contain radiation.  How many bananas would I need to eat to be harmed by it?  ALL of them!

***In case of an evacuation, I should always have a “Go-Bag” ready. This should be packed with basic items such as a change of clothes, some non-perishable snack items, and copies of important documents, as well as some American cash. We did not have one of these in Peace Corps and when we were told we were being evacuated post-earthquake, we had just a few minutes to grab what we would need for an indefinite stay away from our post. In that time of uncertainty, I grabbed my all-important stuffed monster, Zugly, that I have had since I was in about the second grade and somehow my Cleveland  Browns shirt, a lovely “gift” from friends at home,  made it into the backpack as well. (For those of you not aware, I HATE the Cleveland Browns.  The reasons why are long and a little complicated, but to sum it up, I can’t handle the fact that a team named the Browns uses orange as their main color and that they have a set of outfits that make them look just like a bunch of Tootsie Rolls when they don them.) If I remember correctly, Thad’s backpack carried the laptop, but also a crucial addition of Doritos that we had recently acquired from outside of town.  A pre-planned Go-Bag is probably a good thing for the Ross family!

***Many posts are extremely cold. I may not jerry-rig a brick with a heating element to create my own personal foot-warmer.  Apparently, the heat from this will be enjoyed by the fire inspection staff from Washington DC and once they are properly warmed, they will unplug it and take it away from me. (Yes, it happened.  Yes, the instructor had the brick with him.)

***When I move into my new home, if it is an apartment building, I should often take the stairs. This is not only good for my health. Knowing who lives (yes, you read that correctly!) in my stairwell and making acquaintances with these people can be to my advantage.  Good to know!

Is this an exhaustive list of what I learned at SOS this last week?  Nope, but it does give a taste of what the class is like. I now know where the best places to be in case of a possible bomb are (it naturally boils down to “as far away as possible”) and how to circumvent questions that seem to be a bit too inquisitive about embassy life (“Why did you ask me that?” apparently shuts things down pretty quickly).

With that under my belt, I’ve got just a bit of time off and then I’ll be joining Thad in his attempt to curtail the inadvertent swearing in Mandarin!