Direct from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi

Posted by Tara Rigler
September 25, 2007
Leh Valley, India

MORE PHOTOSEver wonder what it's like to live overseas for the U.S. Department of State? Here's a blog entry by Tara Rigler, a civil servant working as the Deputy Press Attaché at U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

Greetings from New Delhi! I have been here almost 9 months, but it seems like only three -- there is never a boring moment in Public Affairs. Over the summer, I had four weeks of work-related trips. The first week of July, I took some Indian journalists out to the U.S.S. Nimitz via the Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) flight. We departed from Chennai, flying almost 480 miles to the ship while it was still off the coast of Sri Lanka. The members of the press that accompanied me were great. (despite some of them getting sea sick!) Prior to the trip, most of the stories in the Indian press were focused on the nuclear weapons on board the ship and protests staged by the left who are concerned about growing cooperation between India and the United States, particularly in the area of military-to-military relations. The visit ultimately produced a number of stories about the men and women on board the ship and their mission. Our departure flight off the Nimitz was exciting as we went from 0-150 mph in 5 seconds! My type of launch! Also while in Chennai, I took another group of journalists out to the Nimitz when it was docked 3 km from the shore. The water was very, very rough, and three of the journalists lost it on the ferry ride out. Good thing I have a strong stomach. Though I heard about the protestors staging a rally near the port, I didn’t see any of them. I did see a lot of happy shop keepers who more than welcomed the almost one million dollars the two-day ship visit brought to the community. I had dinner with the Admiral, the Captain, my PA colleague Kate, and some of the senior crew of the Nimitz on July 4th (my last night in Chennai), which was really fun -- what a great group of people!

In August, my boss sent me to Kathmandu to help out in the public affairs office at the Embassy there. I was supposed to stay 10 days but ended up staying 20. Kathmandu is surrounded by mountains and is far more manageable than Delhi as it has only a fraction of the population. Sadly, there has been a population boom in the city due to the Maoists driving people from their farms and villages to the city for protection. It was spooky seeing the Maoists burning tires, throwing bricks at cars (fortunately not at my car) and waving communist flags in intersections. My office sponsors William, along with his wife Margot, were my weekend site-seeing buddies. Visited temples, monasteries, went on a Hash run, and went hiking. We also saw several Maoist rallies, fortunately all were peaceful.

Last week, one of the Deputy Assistant Secretaries from DoD was in Delhi on an “Official Visit.” The next two weeks will be consumed by the visit of NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams. Though Sunita was not born in India and is an American astronaut, as far as the Indians are concerned, she is an Indian. We’ve got a number of media appearances for her planned.

After a busy summer of ship visits, military exercises, and the excitement of the 123 Agreement (India-United States Civilian Nuclear Agreement), Fall will bring visitors, visitors, and more visitors! The Embassy will have visits from members of Congress, Cabinet members, and various other officials all converging on Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. It will be crazy, but we will survive.

Work is consuming at times, but not all encompassing. I’ve worked some long hours, but I’ve also had the opportunity for personal travel. India’s terrain and sites are just as diverse as its people. I visited Leh, a city that sits at 12,000 feet in the Himalayas, Chennai in southern India, Darjeeling in northeastern India, and of course the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Plus, I spent a rollicking week in Bangalore for the largest air show in India. America had an impressive display of hardware at the show with the F-16, F-18, the C-17, and the C-130 J on display. We also arranged to have one of the most influential men in India, Ratan Tata, fly in both the F-16 and F-18; pretty gutsy for a senior citizen (69-year-old man). And all of this happened with the civilian nuclear agreement looming over us. J I don’t know if 20 months will be enough time to see India and other countries in South and East Asia.

Living in Delhi is certainly an adventure. I’ve been surprised how difficult it can be to accomplish the smallest things. Traffic in Delhi is a nightmare; between the cows, bicycle rickshaws going the wrong direction on the roundabouts, and killer buses, there is never a dull moment. At no time of day can you expect to make it to your destination with ease or on time. I just hired a car and driver, but before that I took taxis to and from work; that was a royal pain. I got tired of the daily battle trying not to get cheated by the taxi driver or having them take me on a long, confusing, and pricy route to the Embassy. Air conditioning also became a must, something that taxis lack. It takes 15 minutes to get to work in the morning and about 30 minutes to get home at night. It's safer but more expensive to have a car and driver. My driver’s English is somewhat limited, so our drive is usually spent with me trying to make him understand what time to pick me up, drop me off, and take my housekeeper to the market.

Keeping healthy is another challenge – makes you look at food in a different light. Basic sanitation is difficult to maintain. I have a water distiller that the Embassy provides and my housekeeper maintains it. I do not brush my teeth with tap water and I am careful never to open my mouth in the shower, as ingesting the water could lead to Delhi belly. Been there, done that, do not want a repeat. Constant hand washing in this country is a must.

The overwhelming poverty that can be found in the country is difficult to accept at times. However, it is a country on the move and in rapid transition. Look forward to sharing more in near future.

Comments

Comments

Sarah
|
Pennsylvania, USA
September 26, 2007

Sarah in Pennsylvania writes:
I am interested in finding out more about a career with the D.O.S, specifically as a civil servant. What educational path is best?

Fred
|
District Of Columbia, USA
September 26, 2007

Dipnote Blogger Frederick Jones writes:
@ Sarah - Civil Service positions at the State Department include six broad areas: Operations; IT, Engineering, and Security; Professional and Analytical Careers; Office Support Professionals; Finance and Accounting; and Executives. Your specific educational path will vary depending on which of those areas interest you the most. The Department has a wealth of information available online to help you. To begin, I suggest you look at the careers.state.gov website, specifically: http://www.careers.state.gov/civil-service/index.html. Good luck!

Robin
|
Romania
September 26, 2007

Robin in Romania writes:
I really enjoyed your description! It seems really fun! Besides that, it's tension. And I see more tension underway as Pakistan is preparing to move from monarchy to republic. We must accept the fact that Pakistan is not really custom with the way things are done in a republic.

P.S. Please excuse me since the English I speak is not that well.

Niles
|
Colorado, USA
October 1, 2007

Niles in Colorado writes:
Thanks for the blog! I'm an aspiring FS officer; I just took the FSOT, coned PD. In short: I want your job! Keep posting, please. I find your posts very entertaining and educational.

Judy
|
Virginia, USA
October 2, 2007

Judy in Virginia writes:
Tara, I believe individuals reading this blog should know that when Foreign Service positions cannot be filled by a Foreign Service employee, the Department opens those positions to Civil Servants (CS). This becomes an excursion tour for the length of assignment. So CS employees assigned to the U.S. often have the opportunity to serve and travel overseas. Not a bad method of exchanging life styles and understanding of foreign service life for a mere two to three years. Great job Tara.

Dan
|
Maryland, USA
October 3, 2007

Dan in Maryland writes:
@ Judy in Virginia -- Thanks for your post ... Relatively minor point, but in the State Department the most often used and official term for the temporary assignment of State Department Civil Service employees to Foreign Service positions overseas is a "Limited Non-Career Appointment to the Foreign Service" (or "LNA") tour, not an "excursion tour" as you put it. Employees serving on LNA tours do important jobs that are often located in difficult and dangerous places, and thus it is not really very appropriate to refer to this dedicated service as an "excursion."

AL
|
District Of Columbia, USA
October 5, 2007

Al in Washington writes:
@ Niles in Colorado -- Hey Niles:
I am an aspirng FS Officer too. Recently took the FSOT. How did you find it?

raja
|
India
December 5, 2007

Raja in India writes:

Hi,

I really liked your blog. I appreciate your love for the Indian tourist sites.

Just one correction. Darjeeling is not in Northeastern India. It is in West Bengal, in eastern India.

Regards.

Mike
|
California, USA
February 15, 2008

Mike in California writes:

Tara,

Thanks for the great Blog. Quick question, I am going to Delhi for the first time later this month for 2 weeks. I need to hire a car and driver for the duration of my trip. Can you make any recommendations?

Regards.

mesut
|
Turkey
February 22, 2008

Mesut in Turkey writes:

Hi Tara, I had been in India for a couple of days -- New Delhi, Agra, and Bangalore, respectively, in the year of 1998. I remember the hygienic and environmental aspects of the country were disgusting. I wonder how you can cope with all that negative-ness for months? On the other hand, as far as I am concerned on internet webpages, India and especially New Delhi is undergoing an amazing modernization. Can you witness that boom in the city life, infrastructure, environment etc.? Do you believe that New Delhi has any chance to become a world class city, as claimed? Regards.

Tom J.
|
Wyoming, USA
May 6, 2008

Tom in Wyoming writes:

Hi Tara

Preston W.
|
Colorado, USA
June 18, 2008

Preston in Colorado writes:

It is hard to imagine a more beautiful place on earth, like the photo. Its is your actual travel notes that can change ones mind about spending a length of time in India going to and fro. The part about India's poverty is well documented but to see it first hand is heart moving and life changing.

It must be great to work abroad for the state department finding new places to see.

Tonya
|
Oklahoma, USA
September 4, 2008

Tonya in Oklahoma writes:

What a wonderful assignment! I'm so jealous! See my e-mail.

.

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