Friday, January 28, 2011

Muslim Engagement Parties, Speaking Arabic, and the FSO Process

As I am about to start round two in my quest to make it all the way, it was difficult to not be a little bit discouraged after reading many of the stories from the most recent group that just received their QEP results. You can never quite tell how revealing the results are from the Yahoo board since you don't know just how representative that sample of candidates is of the overall pool. Needless to say, it didn't sound very good. On top of that the last person from our study group finally took the OA and unfortunately did not make it. No one passed on the day she took it which doesn't bode that well either. Oh well, all you can do is try.

So last night I attended an engagement party for the brother of one of my co-workers in the office in Amman. We had a small gathering in their home first and saw first-hand, Arabic musical chairs. It was a very traditional home with two separate entrances and sitting rooms for male and female guests. When you enter a home you are always offered a small cup of green, bitter coffee, and as the lone non-Arab I was offered the best seat in the room. I was until the parade of village elders arrived and the game of musical chairs started as we slowly danced our way from chair to chair to give the prime seats to the older guests. So by the end of the night I was just standing in a corner.

I thought this was the extent of the evenings activities and about thirty minutes into it I heard the women start the Arabic sort of chant that you often see in movies and I guess that was the signal to hop into our cars and move on to the next stop. So the long convoy moves out and we stop at the village Diwan. The Diwan was/is a local gathering spot that in older times the local village would meet nearly every night and just sort of hang out for several hours and then go home. Now they are used for parties like this. It had two large rooms for women and men and two small prayer rooms as well.

After going through a massive receiving line of the bride-to-be's family we all sat down. Then a random selection of the oldest guests stood up and said prayers blessing everyone. Then it was more bitter coffee, pepsi, and finally Kunafa. Not once did I see the bride.

So as we are hanging out several of the men start talking to me and are surprised at my level of Arabic. Then they bring their sons and ask if I will give them all an English lesson. So for the next hour I would ask them questions in Arabic and then they would have to translate it into English.

These are the sorts of things you just can never experience unless you speak a language. Now how does this relate to the FSO process? Well as someone much smarter than me said, "timing is everything." It looks like that statement certainly applies to the FSO process. With the current situation, if you can even make it to the OA and pass it, I am not sure you can get an offer unless you speak a language and/or have serious veteran's preference points.

I know not everyone can just go hang out in the Middle East, India, or China for a month, but if you view it as an investment in your future career than maybe it is easier to justify. I thought I had great narratives for the QEP last time, but after my experiences in the West Bank and at the party last night I just might have to swap out a story or two if I can make past the written test again.

The idea of grinding through two essays isn't very appealing, so first things first and time to start doing back to back essays for the next two weeks. Otherwise it will be back to the drawing board again.


  1. I swear my life has become a string of anecdotes which I describe in only one of three ways.
    A. OA Story
    B. PNQ Material
    C. Useless

    It's official. The FS Testing process has sucked the fun out of any event or activity and relegated everything that happens to one of those three categories.
    It's good to see i'm not the only one suffering from FS-itis.

    Well done. Your trip is not only amazing FSOT/OA prep, but it's also great life prep. Traveling abroad is something most people don't get a chance to do. And when there, many opt for the tourist/resort option. Your sort of immersion, to me, is the only way to travel.

  2. Every time something happens me or my wife will say, "that's a good personal narrative."

    When do you take the test again?