As longtime readers of this blog know, since I launched in April 2014 I have never missed a month. Sure, there were a couple of times where I posted on the last day of the month, but I have never gone a month without posting something. And I was not going to start 2021 by messing that up! I don’t know why it matters to me; it is not as if missing a month means I can never come back. People who know me would not be surprised by me adhering to this all-or-nothing mentality though. I guess it’s just the way I am. Lest you think I need rules to govern me entirely, I actually do still very much enjoy writing for this blog; it’s just that the last two months have passed in a blur of work and one crisis after another that have left me simultaneously exhilarated and wiped out, which are stories for another day. So here I am at the eleventh hour with a short recap of 2020 and blog stats for the year.
When it comes to 2020, I at first wondered if it was worth doing a year in review. After all, 2020 could not compare to the awesomeness of 2019, when I traveled across the Australian Outback by train, visited Tasmania, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin, half a dozen U.S. states, moved across the world for a new job, and capped it off with a trip to Ecuador right before Christmas. We had all the cool stories about us taking cool adventures and the pictures to go with. In 2020, not so much.
But 2020 was much more than what happened, where we went, and what amazing selfies we took. It was about how we felt, and how we protected each other. And that matters too.
So I spent the first part of the year in our PCS Lodging apartment in Arlington, VA fretting about the Australian bushfires and studying for my Spanish exam. Doesn’t that seem ages ago? I have not written about it for the blog (yet), but we also did go to North Carolina in January and visit my stepdaughter A and her partner B for her 21st birthday. It was the first time I had seen her for more than four years and it was a really important visit for me. We promised her that in a couple of months when we moved to Mexico, we would swing through and say hello.
V and I then went to a Caps hockey game in mid-February having no idea what was on the horizon. I soon became angry and disillusioned that FSI Spanish didn’t think I passed the speaking portion of my final exam, but got a waiver to come to Post with the score anyway because I was desperate to overlap with my predecesor in May. I moved on to Mexico Area Studies with a terrible cold as V also came down with a fever, and then came the last “normal” day many of us experienced: Friday, March 13.
Within days, everything had gone to hell. Peace Corps suspended its global operations, our Foreign Affairs Counterthreat training was cancelled, the U.S.-Mexico border closed, and we had to extend our temporary government housing.
In the months of isolation that followed, V took care of me and shouldered the burden of grocery shopping and cooking. I both cherished and dreaded the arrival of groceries which took a minimum of 90 minutes to sanitize before I could put them away; he would buy a month at a time to minimize trips out. The gym in our apartment building went dark. We cleaned any arriving packages or mail, and did not allow anyone into our home for any reason. We did not see anyone. Housekeeping in the apartment building stopped.
An announcement went out that someone in our building was sick with coronavirus and had been out and about walking her dog. I dumped the garbage at night, hoping I would not run into another tenant in the hall. When re-entering the apartment, I sanitized my keys, the doorknob, and the bottoms of my sandals, and vigorously washed my hands. I started spacing my Enbrel injections to every other week, playing the risk of arthritis flare-ups against the gain of a potentially higher immune system. After some weeks, I started leaving the house to walk, but usually only late at night, when I rarely saw a soul in our Courthouse neighborhood.
In late April, our day to PCS to Ciudad Juárez came and went. I spent some quiet times in online, self-guided training, since all my mid-level, in-person consular training I had fought so hard to get had been cancelled. I also reflected back on visiting my Peace Corps country of service after my time as a Volunteer had ended, as well as my mom’s visit to Uzbekistan during my Tashkent tour that I had never written about at that time.
Isolation dragged on and on as spring arrived to the DC area, and V and I held our ground on self-isolation for our own safety. In the grinding tedium of day after day, we had quiet evenings. We talked about things that mattered. We took charge – of our computers, of stray papers, of to-do lists. We watched mounting death tolls on the news and coronavirus task force meetings in disbelief. We planned to adopt a Westie puppy and sent a breeder a deposit. I started joining meetings virtually with the ACS team here in Juárez as my predecessor and I saw our planned overlap come crashing down around us – me unable to arrive while Post was stuck in what the Department called Phase I of the Diplomacy Strong framework and her own departure looming.
As June arrived, V and I started doing more outdoor activities in rural areas of Virginia in preparation for what we knew would be an extremely long drive to Mexico, and one filled with risks for people who had not touched surfaces, eaten in public, or “shared air” with others for months.
And then suddenly, as we had hoped, in July we found out we could schedule our move. V’s daughter A was on a cross-country trip of her own for her senior thesis and not home for us to swing by so sadly, coronavirus took that from us, as it had taken our in-person presence at his younger daughter D’s high school graduation.
We bought a 4Runner, packed it up and the Volkswagen too, and hit the road. We drove from Virginia through North Carolina to South Carolina, onward through Georgia and Alabama, through Mississippi and Louisiana, across Texas and finally crossed the Mexican border six months ago today. We stayed in our house for two weeks afterwards holding our breath to see what would happen, but we did not, not, not get sick. And other than V regrettably returning to the Washington, DC area for several weeks for work and a short jaunt to New Mexico in October when he returned, that is pretty much where we have stayed. I have moved around in El Paso from east to west and from north to south, masked and diligent. Inside Juárez I feel like a stranger, moving inside a perimeter shaped like a tiny triangle: border, home, consulate. Border, home, consulate. Sadly, in the autumn, the Westie breeder we had chosen demonstrated some less-than-stellar ethical behavior with us, so we elected to cut ties and have had to start over. Hopefully 2021 will bring us the right puppy!
So far, I do not feel like I have come even close to mastering my job, and I am an astonishing one-sixth of the way through it. I have talked to U.S. citizens in jail over the phone being detained on charges ranging from drugs to property destruction to arms trafficking. Our office has issued emergency passports and citizenship determinations and certificates of death abroad to U.S. citizens in crisis as we face down a closed border and a pandemic that continues to be deadly on both sides. I helped coordinate an emergency air medical evacuation for a U.S. citizen who had been shot in our consular district. I talked to a U.S. citizen who was trying to escape domestic violence as the alleged offender stood next to her with his hand on her arm. And so many other cases that come to mind which are only a fraction of the excellent work our office is doing in service to our country here. May 2021 let me get much better acquainted with this strong, vibrant, and – above all – brave city.
Blogging in 2020
- In 2020, I wrote 38 new blog posts, down from 47 in 2019.
- And yet, the blog received 44,569 unique page and post views from 13,854 visitors, representing a whopping 36% increase in views and a 39% increase in readers over 2019. And as with every year since the blog’s inception, both views and readers have increased.
- In August 2020, the blog received its highest ever number of monthly views: 5,111. Perhaps it was because we finally left the house!? In fact, monthly post and page views have remained consistently above 3,000 every month since May 2020.
- Blog readers in 2020 hailed from 139 different countries (down slightly from 146 in 2019). See below for a list of the top 20 countries from which visitors most frequently viewed the blog.
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- Hong Kong (*note I’m not making a political statement here; WordPress differentiates between viewers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China and breaks their stats out accordingly)
Below is a list of the top 20 posts and pages, ranked by the number of the views they received, and including their year of publication:
Looking at the above list, a couple of thoughts come to mind. First, the most frequently visited post does not have anything whatsoever to do with the Foreign Service! It was a post I wrote during the pandemic while researching a particular collection of discontinued Louis Vuitton bags I liked during my 20s. The bags are called “Multicolore.” When writing the post, I worried it would alienate readers, either because it was unrelated to the primary topics of this blog (careers in international relations and life overseas), because purses seem superficial during a public health and economic emergency when people are losing jobs and loved ones, or both.
And yet, this post outperformed every other post in 2020 by more than double. Who knew. I am not surprised that a post about housing in the Foreign Service finally knocked my QEP post – number one every year between 2015 and 2019 by an absolute landslide – off its throne, but luxury purses often associated with mid-aughts celebrities like Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton? I have to say honestly I was not expecting that. However cheesy and dumb some people think these “rainbow bags” are, I adore them. They make me so happy, and from what I can see, several thousand people agree with me and want to know more about authenticating them and avoiding fakes! To be sure, this topic could alienate regular readers no matter how many new readers it brings, who would also probably be bored by the rest of the blog, so even though the bags might pop up from time to time, I don’t expect to publish much in-depth content about them here. It was kind of a one-off, just-for-fun thing.
I have not traditionally paid a lot of attention to how people come to the blog, or where they go once they get here, but I would be curious to know whether that post as a major driver of traffic to the blog is something that people read and then leave, or whether they get curious and read more on the blog. Being a diplomat and authenticating purses? Two pretty different interests for most, I would suspect, but who knows.
Second, posts I wrote in 2019 and 2020 are better-represented in the top 20 this year than are evergreen posts I wrote in 2014 (from my “Becoming an FSO” series). The reason that was significant to me was because last year, the top 20 most popular posts were made up of about 50-50 new and old, whereas in the two prior years, eight of 10 of the most popular posts were all from 2014. Perhaps the relevance of those 2014 posts is less now as we get farther out and the Foreign Service has made some changes to its entry and testing procedures. It is just speculation on my part – I am not a serious statistician, just a person that finds numbers and trends interesting and likes to write things that people like to read!
Thank you as always to people who read the blog and send me questions. I will continue to answer them both personally through email and as a part of my “Your Questions Answered” blog series. Thank you for your continued patience with my response time – sometimes it does take me four to six weeks, but I promise I do answer every one. I hope 2021 brings us all great things!