Photo Of The Day: Papua New Guinea Sing-Sing Preparation

The tribes of Papua New Guinea are renowned for their intricate and colorful Sing-sing rituals: gatherings of neighboring villages for the exchange of traditional dances and music. In today’s photo, by Flickr user Susani2008, we have an intimate look at the elaborate preparation that goes into these unique events. The man pictured above is getting ready for his Sing-sing by applying wildly colorful face paint and an intricate feather headress. The colors and designs are intended to mimic the appearance and patterns of the visually stunning local bird population.

Taken any great photos from your own trip to Papua New Guinea? Or perhaps just from your last stop in Pasadena? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Susani2008]

Explore Papua New Guinea Through The Lens Of A Photographer

Looking to improve your photography skills while exploring one of the world’s most beautiful countries?

Asia Transpacific Journeys
recently launched a new photo excursion tour of Papua New Guinea, led by renowned photographer Michele Westmoreland. Called “Papua New Guinea Through The Lens,” the 12-day adventure journeys from Port Moresby to Mount Hagen, Kumul, Nondugi, Karawari, Kundiman and Tufi. Highlights of the trip include a cruise along the Sepik River; sea kayaking in coastal Tufi and an excursion to the Wahgi Sing-Sing Festival, which showcases traditional cultural performances from the Wahgi Valley.

Westmoreland’s tour will not just be an introduction to Papua New Guinea; it will also be an introduction to photography for both veterans and newbies, with expert advice on lighting, composition and editing.

The package costs $10,695, and the next one kicks off in June 2013. For a sample of what’s in store, check out the photo gallery below.

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[Photo Credit: Michele Westmoreland via Asia Transpacific Journeys]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: The Best Foreign Service Blogs

smoking huge joint womanThe World Wide Web is saturated with amateurish blogs created by people who’d be lucky to command the devoted readership of their immediate family members, let alone the wider public. There are scores of blogs managed by Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and while many of them are worth reading, some are downright bizarre. This post will steer you toward some Foreign Service related blogs that are well worth your time.

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I started this series nine months ago to help people get a better understanding of what life in the U.S. Foreign Service is like. Many of the posts have been about my experiences but I’ve also introduced readers to an intrepid, single female diplomat fresh off of tours in Syria and Pakistan, a diplomatic courier, a USAID Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Afghanistan and others. But spend some time at the sites listed below to get a flavor of what it’s like to represent the U.S. Government in The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Pakistan and dozens of other exotic locales.toothless woman with stretched earlobes peasantOne major caveat here is that FSOs have to be careful what they write because free speech only takes you so far in the precarious, uber-cautious world of government service. Most FSOs have disclaimers on their sites warning that the views expressed are their own, but many still tend to steer clear of tackling political issues or anything controversial.

Peter Van Buren, a now retired diplomat who wrote “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” was effectively driven out of the Foreign Service partially because he posted a link to a cable on WikiLeaks and made some disparaging remarks, which he later apologized for, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his website.

There’s no doubt that his experience has had a chilling effect across the board, so visit the sites below to get the low-down on the Foreign Service lifestyle and the travel opportunities, not the dirty underbelly of how diplomacy plays out overseas.

Some of the blogs below contain little, if any biographical info, and I wasn’t able to read each one in its entirety, so my apologies in advance if my impressions of these blogs below miss the mark. That said, I would invite the authors of these fine sites to tell us more about themselves, if they dare, in the comments section.

Diplopundit

Domani Spero has no U.S. government connection and thus has the freedom to write about the world of diplomacy without having to worry about his career. Diplopundit is as close as you’ll find to one-stop shopping for a candid look at what’s going on in the Foreign Service community.

Adventures in Good Countries- Getting Along In The Foreign Service

I love this blog. The author, apparently a single female public diplomacy officer who, “doesn’t date outside the visa waiver program,” blogs with style and passion about life in Japan, Pakistan, Jordan and elsewhere, coping with Multiple Sclerosis and whatever else pops into her head. How can you not like a writer who offers advice to protesters on how to construct a good effigy? (“Don’t just throw something together with the rationale that you’re only going to burn it anyway – take some pride in your work.”)

We Meant Well

You might not agree with Peter Van Buren but you will want to read his blog, which is sometimes offensive but never boring.

Third Culture Children

This blog, which details the lives of a family of five living in Recife, Brazil, La Paz, Bolivia and elsewhere, is one of the very best Foreign Service related sites out there. It’s a particularly good resource for parents who are wondering what the overseas experience will be like for their children.

amy gottlieb usaidAmy Gottlieb’s Photography & Blog

Gottlieb is a doctor and a USAID FSO currently serving in South Africa. Her portraits from Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, South America, Africa and beyond are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.

Adventures Around the World- A Foreign Service Officer’s Tales of Life Abroad

The author of this refreshingly candid and well-written blog is currently in Kabul and has previously served in Iraq and Nepal. Here’s how she described the “honeymoon” period at a new post: “The honeymoon period is the time frame after moving to a foreign country where the excitement of being somewhere new overshadows certain harsh realities of living in a foreign country. People burning piles of trash in the street give the place ‘character’ and bargaining with a taxi driver is part of the ‘adventure.'”

Worldwide Availability

This is a stunning photo blog from an American diplomat who was born on a farm in China and is currently serving in South Korea. Visiting this site is the next best thing to booking a ticket to Seoul. Also, for those who are curious to know how long it takes to join the Foreign Service, take a look at his instructive personal timeline for some clues.

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic

Anyone who features a photo of themselves (I presume) with a Gambian poached rat on their homepage is all right by me. This is a blog from a FSO posted in Conakry, Guinea, a place where “you tend to find yourself without a really specific reason.”

The Slow Move East- Thoughts on Being an Expatriate

Hannah Draper, a FSO currently serving in Libya, might be a “Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East,” but her writing is compulsively readable.

Where in the World am I? Notes from the Streets of Hyderabad, India

A FSO in Hyderabad who previously served in Burundi blogs about food and life overseas with gusto.

Cross Words- A Blog About Writing and Anything Else That Comes to Mind

Ted Cross, a FSO currently living in Budapest who apparently just signed up for Facebook last week (Friend him!), tells us on his homepage that his “dream is to be a published author.” I like someone who isn’t afraid to tell the world what he wants. He’s into fantasy and science fiction, neither of which interests me, but his blog is unique and his writing is lucid.

Four Globetrotters- The (Most Likely) Incoherent Ramblings of a Sleep-Deprived Single Mother Living Overseas with her Trio of Kiddos

Anyone who can pull off being a single mom in the Foreign Service is someone I want to meet. This blog, written by a former Foreign Service brat, isn’t nearly as incoherent as advertised.

Beau Geste, Mon Ami- The Chronicle of my Journey to and through The Foreign Service

Even a quick breeze through this visually appealing blog will give you an idea of how varied and interesting life in the Foreign Service can be. If nothing else, do not miss the photos of the tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea.

Zvirdins at Large- Jamie and Andrew’s Excellent Adventures

If you want a slice of life from the Marshall Islands, this is the place to go. I love this blog but I couldn’t bring myself to click into the video entitled “Pig Shooting” in a post on “Pig Butchering.” Yikes.

Talesmag

This isn’t a FSO blog per se, but the site’s stories and “real post reports” on hundreds of cities around the globe are an invaluable resource for those seeking insights into the Foreign Service lifestyle.

Let me know in the comments section if you think I’ve missed any great FSO-related blogs and if you’re the author of ones of the sites mentioned above, tell us a bit about yourself.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

(Photos courtesy of Amy Gottlieb)

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: How To Avoid Posts Where You Might Get Eaten Alive

tribe in papua new guinea cannibalsHave you ever received a phone call from someone who was hoping to entice you to live in a country where cannibalism is still practiced? I have.

“I have a great opportunity for you in Port Moresby,” said Hollis, my State Department Career Development Officer (CDO)/used car salesperson.

I Googled Port Moresby from my office at the American Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, and the results weren’t encouraging. And when I asked a more senior person at the embassy what he thought, his first reaction told me all I needed to know about the place.

“Papua New Guinea,” he said. “Don’t they still eat people there?”In the peculiar world of the Foreign Service, diplomats are always obsessing over their next post. No matter whether you’re in Paris or Bangui, it’s hard not to think about what’s next, thanks to the unique bidding system, where State Department Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) typically bid a year or more in advance of taking up a new post.

The practicality of this system is that if you’re in a two or three year assignment, you typically know where you’re going next near the midway point of your tour. If you love your post and are heading somewhere dreadful next, you have plenty of time for the apprehension to build, but if you’re excited about your onward assignment it can make even the worst job or post seem bearable.

If you have a one-year assignment to a danger post, you typically bid right before or after arriving in say, Kabul or Baghdad. And since serving at a post like that gives one some serious bidding equity the next time around, nearly everyone manages to go somewhere they want after serving in conflict zones. So your ticket to Afghanistan can be tempered by a ticket to Sydney or Rome that’s already in the bag by the time you land in Kabul.

If you’re a traveler who has thought about joining the State Department’s Foreign Service, but want to know more about how likely you are to be able to live in the regions you prefer, this is a primer on what to expect if you join the Foreign Service.

First tour: FSO’s start their careers in a class called A-100 and are given a “directed assignment” to their first post. Officers can express bidding preferences but whether you get what you want is a real crapshoot. If you have a foreign language proficiency, your chances of going to that country/region are good, but don’t bank on it.

Career development officers (CDO’s) take a variety of factors into account in deciding who goes where: job/career fit, family and school considerations (i.e. they are less likely to send someone with school age children to a post with no accredited schools), health considerations (if an FSO has a family member with health issues), language ability and the timing of when the job is open versus what job and language training the person would need to fill the position.

Second tour: The second tour is also a directed assignment but here’s where things get really tricky, as far as bidding strategy goes. Junior officers can only get one full language course in their first two tours, and they have to do a consular job as well. So if, for example, you exhaust your language training on the first go around, or don’t fulfill your consular obligation, your bidding options can be severely hampered.

In my case, I was given Albanian language training prior to departing for my first post in Macedonia, and since I wasn’t proficient in any other foreign languages at that time, I could only bid on jobs at English speaking posts and jobs, which didn’t require foreign language proficiency.

The second assignment is supposed to be based upon bidding “equity.” Those who are at the toughest posts – and here, toughest is defined by those with the highest hardship and danger pay ratings – have the most equity, and should get the first pick of assignments.

But in reality, FSO’s with connections or good karma sometimes manage to float by from one good post to another while others go from bad posts to even worse ones. I loved living in Macedonia, but since it was rated as a 20 percent hardship post at the time I was bidding for the second go-around, I thought I would have plenty of equity to get one of the 20 jobs I bid on for my second tour.

tobagoBut then I got the Port Moresby phone call from Hollis, who explained that I didn’t have enough equity to get any of the 20 posts I’d bid on, and would have to take my chances with the leftovers. CDO’s are very much like used car salespeople, so he was trying to push the places that no one had bid on. After weeks of wrangling, I was given Port of Spain, Trinidad, which wasn’t at all up my alley, but seemed quite acceptable compared to Port Moresby.

Mid Level Bidding: Once FSO’s get tenure, the directed assignment process is over and officers lobby and interview for jobs based on their own merit. The equity system is still in play but less so. In decades past, some FSO’s managed to specialize in one geographic area, but these days, with huge missions in Baghdad and Kabul, no one can get away without at least bidding on hardship posts, and many officers are getting sent on unaccompanied assignments in dangerous places against their will.

Tips: In an A-100 class, it’s essential to try to find out through the grapevine as much as you can on who’s bidding on what. The most important thing to gauge is what jobs everyone is putting at the very bottom of his or her list. Let’s say, for example, that nearly everyone has Khartoum as the bottom of their list, but you have it somewhere near the middle of your list. Well, guess who’s got a pretty damn good shot of spending Christmas in Sudan?

In general, you want to present bid lists that make sense and that you can defend rationally. Trying to tell CDO’s you prefer Dublin, Sydney and Prague because they have good beer in each place is a sure way to get a one-way ticket to Dhaka. And last, but definitely not least, if you have high-level connections, use them, and remember that you can always negotiate.

Bottom line: Joining the Foreign Service is a little bit like joining the military, in terms of signing your fate over to the government. It’s obviously far cushier, pays better and is less dangerous, but you can’t completely control where you go and you can get sent to places you do not want to go without your family members. If you’re flexible, adventurous and not extremely risk averse, it might be a good career option for you. But if you’re just hoping for an easy way to live in Sydney or Rome, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Read more from “A Traveler in The Foreign Service” here.

[Photos by Dave Seminara and friar’s balsam on Flickr]

8 Languages You’ve Never Heard Of (And Who Actually Speaks Them)

As anyone who follows my articles here on Gadling knows by now, I don’t travel to relax poolside at a resort or sip a fancy drink with coconut oil. I travel because this world is a fascinating place.

While everyone has their own travel philosophy and reasons for wanting to get away, I know that for many travelers, one of the greatest joys of travel is experiencing other cultures and peeking into corners of the world, which are far removed from our own. This could range from immersing yourself in a culture with a different religion, cuisine, or something as simple as driving on the other side of the road.

More often than not, however, one of the largest indicators that we “aren’t in Kansas anymore” is traveling to a place with a language that is different from our own. With linguists estimating there are over 7,000 languages spread across the globe, there is little to no chance of any traveler ever having the opportunity to properly experience them all. Furthermore, as Gadling blogger Kraig Becker points out, there are still uncontacted tribes in parts of the Amazon where we don’t even know what language they speak yet.

Though situations like these are encouraging, the sad reality is that the majority of indigenous languages is critically endangered and will most likely not survive the next generation. According to the United Nations and UNESCO, not only does an indigenous language go extinct every two weeks, but up to 90% of the world’s languages are likely to disappear in the next century if current trends continue.

While the Economist reports that recent advances in technology may actually be able to aid in the rescue and rebirth of languages, the fact of the matter remains that thousands of global languages are dying at a terrifying rate.

So, in a nod to the fascinating beauty of global tongues, here is a rundown of eight languages that you’ve probably never heard of, and are lucky if you ever hear.

Sámi

Where it’s spoken: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia
Approximate number of speakers: 25,000

More than just a single language, Sámi forms an entire family of languages, which are spoken in the northern reaches of Scandinavia and northwestern Russia. While neighboring groups of Sámi speaking peoples may be able to understand the sub-family spoken next door, Sámi speakers separated by hundreds of miles are considered to be mutually unintelligible. That being said, nearly all Sámi speakers are fluent in their native tongue as well as the national tongue of their home country, i.e., Norwegian. Once referred to as Lapp, the name is now considered to carry derogatory connotations.

As can be expected from a language rooted in northern Scandinavia, the Sámi language reputedly has over 300 words for snow. Though there is a movement to rejuvenate the language amongst the Sámi youth, some of the Sámi dialects such as Southern Sámi are feared to be on the verge of extinction.

Xhosa

Where it’s spoken: South Africa
Approximate number of speakers: 7.9 million

Ok, I’ll admit it. If you’ve traveled to South Africa then you’ve probably heard of this language. You’ve probably even heard it spoken. As one of the major languages of South Africa, Xhosa has been spoken by such recognized dignitaries as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Nevertheless, what makes Xhosa such a fascinating language is the inclusion of pronounced clicks, which seem to emerge effortlessly from the mouths of those who are speaking. Even though Xhosa speakers appear to be in the midst of rapid-fire dialogue, they simultaneously are able to create a sound birthed somewhere between the throat and the tongue, which is impossible to get tired of witnessing.

Melpa

Where it’s spoken: Papua New Guinea
Approximate number of speakers: 130,000

With over 800 languages, Papua New Guinea is officially regarded as being the most linguistically diverse country found anywhere in the world. Out of the 800-plus languages in the country, Melba is a tongue that is spoken in the western highlands and centered around the town of Mount Hagen. One of the most widely spoken languages in the tribal highlands, less than 100 years have passed since the Melpa and their fellow highland people first came into contact with Western outsiders.

Plus they have an unbelievable YouTube video that makes me want to buy Jams pants.

Ket

Where it’s spoken: Russia (Siberia)
Approximate number of speakers: 600

An isolate language which, like the Basque language in Spain, is unrelated to any neighboring language, the Ket are such an obscure and unfathomably isolated group of former hunter-gatherers that many Russian people don’t even know they exist.

Located in south-central Siberia, just north of the border with Mongolia, Ket has begun being taught at the lower grade levels in the handful of villages that still host native Ket populations. With the Russian language infiltrating all forms of daily life, however, many fear that the Ket language is on a clear-cut path for extinction.

Anus

Where it’s spoken: Irian Jaya, Indonesia
Approximate number of speakers: 70

Yes, I’ve included this here for no other reason than its wildly sophomoric name. All joking aside, however, the Anus language is spoken by the Anus people, indigenous residents of an island off the coast of Irian Jaya, Indonesia. As classless linguists like myself will point out, the Anus language is not to be confused with the Anal language spoken by the Anal people of India. A language with roughly 14,000 native speakers, Anal is spoken in portions of India and Myanmar.

Yoron

Where it’s spoken: Japan
Approximate number of speakers: 950

If you, like me, thought that only Japanese was spoken in Japan, then allow me to introduce you to Yoronjima, a tiny island in the Ryukyu island chain in the waters of southern Japan. A subtropical island that looks more akin to Fiji than Japan, Yoronjima is a haven for vacationing Japanese who flock to the island to scuba dive the turquoise waters and bake on the white sand beaches. Although mainstream Japanese is the de facto language of commerce on Yoronjima, about 950 of the island’s 6,000 residents still speak the native tongue of Yoron while privately gathered or while in the home.

Silbo Gomero

Where it’s spoken: Canary Islands, Spain
Approximate number of speakers: 22,000

Spoken on the rugged and mountainous island of La Gomera in Spain’s Canary Islands, Silbo Gomero is officially known as the world’s only language consisting entirely of whistling. Derived as a means of communicating across the island’s steep and precipitous ravines, Silbo Gomero uses whistles meant to mimic the sounds of four vowels and four consonants, which, when used in conjunction, are able to create a vocabulary of over 4,000 intelligible words. Though linguists debate over the exact root of the language, some theorize that it may derive from the Berber languages found in nearby Morocco.

Able to be understood at a distance of up to two miles, the advent of mobile phones has created a sharp drop off in the necessity of Silbo Gomero. Nevertheless, in an effort to retain the island’s culture, Silbo Gomero is now taught in state run schools at the elementary level in an effort is foster its use amongst the island’s youth.

Taushiro

Where it’s spoken: Peru
Approximate Number of Speakers: 1

Amadeo Garcia is the last person in the world who speaks Taushiro. A native tribesman of the Peruvian Amazon who also speaks Spanish, Amadeo realizes that as soon as he dies, the language will forever too die with him. As of this writing, Amadeo is 57 years old.

Imagine being able to speak a language that no one else on Earth understands. At first I’m sure there would be some novelty, but after time that novelty would simply turn to loneliness. While the above video is entirely in Spanish, it explains that Amadeo speaks Taushiro only to himself. Around his village, a remote town where he lives in a one-room, wooden shack, Amadeo speaks Spanish with his fellow villagers. In the jungles, however, when paddling his dugout canoe or hunting for birds with his traditional blow dart gun, he will occasionally break into song or speak to himself in Taushiro.

A sad reality to be sure, Amadeo personifies the plight of indigenous peoples and native languages in every corner of the world. From Native Americans in North America to ethnic minorities of the high Tibetan plateau, how many more people like Amadeo are out there, mumbling to themselves in the jungle in a language the world will never hear again?

[Cover photo credit: LivingOS on Flickr]