The Best of 2021 Awards: Part V

by Just Juan
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Today is Part V of The Best of 2021. 5 more randoms and moments from this year that will end tomorrow night.

BEST AHH HA MOMENT. For Best Ahh Ha Moment of 2021, the qualifier is a specific moment in which I experience sudden insight or discovery of something that ties the past with the present. The nominees are:

  • Every character in Casino Royale’s fate by the end of No Time to Die. The day after watching No Time to Die for a 2nd time, I sat back and wrote in Triumphs & Tribulations XXII about the entire Daniel Craig run as 007. It was during that entry that I discovered every main character from Casino Royale was dead by the end of No Time to Die. Vesper Lynd, Le Chiffre, Steven Obanno, and the Dimitrios couple were killed in Casino Royale. René Mathis died in Quantum of Solace. M was killed at the end of Skyfall. Mr. White committed suicide in Spectre. Felix Leiter and Bond both died in No Time to Die. I was actually a bit saddened at that sudden discovery but it just means that the entire franchise will be rebooted for sure.
  • I’m really a U.S. diplomat. In January, I picked up the diplomatic passports for my family and me from the Department of State’s Special Issuance Agency. Once I opened the envelope and saw the black passport with the words DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT on it, it really settled in that I was an American diplomat. Even though I had been sworn in as a diplomat months earlier, nothing tangible said I was a diplomat until I got that passport. It made everything real.
  • My proficiency and calmness in contingency situations. Back in the Summer of 2003, I went through basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base. Though I hated the experience, one of the highlights was Warrior Week, in which we went through a week of field training. It was there that I came to know my calmness in high-stress situations and my proficiency in field care…notably the tourniquets. Fast forward to February of this year. I attended the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat course, which was basically a week in the field learning about all of the counterterrorism stuff we may have to deal with as diplomats. On the last day of the training, we had an exercise to go over everything that we learned. With flashbangs and dummy firing and chaos happening all around me, the calmness I displayed in San Antonio as an 18-year-old showed up in the Virginia boondocks 17 ½ years later. I helped lead my team to safety with a firm but calm demeanor. And the icing on the cake was that I still possessed incredible talent in making tourniquets…even though I’ve never had to do it in a real-world situation and hadn’t really done one in training since my early Air Force days. I guess the skills never fade.
  • I make more money than the President of the Republic of Colombia. So when I was doing research on Colombia for my area studies class, I looked up President of Colombia on Wikipedia. I was shocked to discover that the salary of the President of the Republic of Colombia was $32624000 Colombian pesos per month. For my knowledge, I did a currency conversion and I was shocked to see that I actually make more money per month than the President…in gross earnings that is. As a kid who was likely the poorest in my class for several years in Birmingham during my elementary school days, to ascend to a level where my salary is higher than the president of a country I’m serving my own country in is definitely a moment of sudden insight. It shows me how far I’ve come in life.

And the Best Ahh Ha Moment of 2021 is…I’m really a U.S. diplomat.

Image: Movie poster for Casino Royale [Source: Alternate Movie Posters]
Featured Image: The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center [Source: Hensel Phelps]
Featured Image: My diplomatic and tourist passports
Image: A collection of $1 bills [Source: Centsible Life]


BEST DRIVE. For Best Drive in 2021, the qualifier is a specific segment of driving in which I found enjoyment in the experience. The nominees are:

  • I-85 South from I-95 to the Virginia-North Carolina state line. On June 30, when I returned the townhouse keys to the landlord, I bolted out of the National Capital Region as fast as I could. A little after 4pm EDT, I was at the I-85 South interchange with I-95 just outside of Petersburg, Virginia. For the next 68 ½ miles to the North Carolina state line, it was a beautiful drive. The sun peered through the trees along the mostly desolate interstate. I pushed it up to 76 MPH and I didn’t even have to touch the pedal at any point.
  • The drive through Birmingham on my way to dinner with friends. The quickest route to meet up with my friends at Firebirds adjacent to the Riverchase Galleria would’ve been to take I-459 South…considering I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn—Birmingham/Liberty Park. But, as it was essentially my last night in the city before departing to Bogotá, I needed to see my hometown one last time before I made my exit. So I took I-459 North to I-59 West to I-65 South to I-459 in Hoover. I literally took the long way to get there. Ironically, the Boney James-Dave Hollister collaboration on “Something Inside” from Ride was playing and that Dave Hollister lead off with “I took the long way home…” played. Anyway, seeing my city going east-to-west and from north-to-south was a treat. I don’t get back to the Magic City often but when I do, those moments are valuable. Besides, it was my first time driving through the newly-configured Downtown Interchange. It was much more efficient than the old setup.
  • The I-10 East cruise. During the days I was in a relationship with Chavon, I made the trip from Valdosta to Jacksonville often. It was a long, boring 2-hour drive. The highlight of it back then was that cruise on I-10 East coming off the I-75 interchange outside of Lake City, Florida. That stretch of driving from the interchange to the Duval County line is one of the 10 best driving stretches I’ve ever experienced. Of course, I punched it to 80 MPH going through the Osceola National Forest and The Red Wolf handled it like a champ.

And the Best Drive in 2021 is…winner.

Image: I-10 East approaching Duval County, Florida [Source: AA Roads]
Image: I-85 South approaching Squirrel Level Road outside of Petersburg, Virginia [Source: AA Roads]
Image: I-20/59 bridge through Downtown Birmingham [Source:]


BEST LEARNING EXPERIENCE. For Best Learning Experience of 2021, the qualifier is a learning experience that proved to be valuable in 2021. The nominees are:

  • Spanish language training. For a little over ¼ of 2021, I was in Spanish language training. It’s a tough course and there’s little doubt that it earned the award for Best Challenge of 2021. The Foreign Service Institute provided everything I needed to be successful: an interactive textbook in Hacia Adelante, patient language instructors, a language consultant, and even a lab technician that helps with the delicate stuff regarding language. The course certainly isn’t my favorite of all time but the learning experience was grand.
  • Becoming a POSHO. One of my most important duties as a Foreign Service Facility Manager is the work I’ll do as Post Occupational Safety & Health Officer. Though the training course was 5 days, I learned a lot from the instructors and the more experienced POSHOs who were taking the class as part of their 5-year refresher. But what I’ve learned in the field from my supervisor—the previous POSHO at Embassy Bogotá—and my Assistant POSHO has been truly beneficial and overwhelming at the same time. I can’t count out what I’ve learned from the housing inspectors on my staff as well as regular tradesmen. Learning what they do helps me keep them safe. The best part is the information. I have about 30 binders of materials related to safety. I’m literally armed with a response to every scenario.
  • Area studies classes. The two area studies class I took this year—Western Hemisphere Regional Overview and Andean Republics & Southern Cone: Language Integrated—changed my perspective on South America and the Western Hemisphere. It was heavy stuff. There is a lot of checkered history in this part of the world, which is dominated largely by Spanish-speaking countries and Blacks in the Caribbean. From a regional perspective in the West, I found that the United States hasn’t been as good a “neighbor” as we project. We’ve punked the other nations…often treating them like a “little brother”. From a continent perspective here in South America, I learned that we’ve had a hand in the corrupt politics, the classism, and even some of the drug trade. The area studies experience definitely opened up my eyes to why people in Latin America are not as trusting of estadounidenses.
  • Keeping your guard up abroad. Back in October, Mercedes had her wallet stolen during a visit to a local medical clinic here in Bogotá. For her, it was a terrifying experience. For me, it was a reminder to stay vigilant. We get warnings from the Regional Security Office all the time. And I’m constantly reminded of the socioeconomic plights of Colombians here. And the crime is often very much in your face…or close to it. 11 years ago, I experienced the Victoria Park incident during my debut in Hong Kong. I let my guard down while playing basketball with fellow English speakers much the same that Mercedes did with the Colombian staff at the medical clinic. What I learned in Hong Kong that spring day in 2010 is every bit applicable now, especially since I’m here in Colombia: I AM A TARGET OF OPPORTUNITY. Bogotá is a city of 10 million residents and about 500000 people are Black…mostly Afrocolomianos, Afrovenezolanos, and Afrobolivianos. There aren’t a lot of Black Americans here…even at the Embassy. There certainly aren’t a lot of Blacks in the part of the city we reside so the prevailing thought amongst the locals will be that we’re Americans with money…and they treat us as such and target us as such. The learning experience here is to never let my guard down here. The simplest of things I have here may be grand luxuries to the locals and they might just be compelled to take it from me if I’m not vigilant.

And the Best Learning Experience of 2021 is…Area studies classes.


BEST NEW DRINK. For Best of 2021, the qualifier is a beverage I tried for the first time in 2021. The nominees are:

  • Avena Colombiana. On my first trip to Cartagena, I went out with some of the locals that work at the Embassy Branch Office there. I told them I didn’t drink so they recommended I try an Avena Colombiana. It’s basically an oatmeal drink mixed with water, cinnamon, and sugar. It was very creamy and surprisingly refreshing. When I took my first sip, everybody at the table cheered and even people at other tables cheered.
  • HiT Frutas Tropicales juice. This is a very late addition to the nominee list. I literally added it today after having one at breakfast. The juice had a real natural taste and didn’t include any artificial flavoring or preservatives. I think I may add this to my Thursday morning breakfast routine in the Embassy cafeteria.
  • Postobon Manzana soft drink. Every country I’ve lived in has featured a soft drink that was game-changing. In Spain, it was La Casera Sabor Naranja. In Japan, it was Fanta Melon. In South Korea, it was Lotte Chilsung Cider. Here, in Colombia, it’s Postobon Manzana.
  • Alpina Leche. One of the great things about being abroad is the ultra-pasteurized milk. It’s heated at a much higher temperature than they heat milk in the United States, which results in longer shelf life and a much safer product. Don’t get me started on reasons why they don’t do this back home. The Alpina Leche was one of my first purchases from Carulla during my first weekend here. Not only is it good in my cereal but I’ve actually drank it straight up…something I almost never do with milk back home.

And the Best New Drink of 2021 is…Avena Colombiana.


BEST CHANGE MADE TO MY RESIDENCE. For Best Change Made to My Residence in 2021, the qualifier is a change made to the housing situation in 2021 that made it better than the experience in 2020. The nominees are:

  • Ninja Foodi 6-in-1 8-quart 2-basket Air Fryer with DualZone Technology. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the 2-basket air fryer was an incredible get for me in 2021. It really changed the way we prepare foods…especially with efficiency. The features on it actually allow us to prepare different kinds of foods, not just the conventional fried foods.
  • Netgear Nighthawk AX3600 TriBand WiFi 6 Mesh System. The winner of Best New Purchase in 2021 is also a nominee here. It has certainly expanded the connectivity in the residence.
  • My empleada doméstica. As big as the apartments are here, keeping them clean is sometimes a challenge. The majority of the U.S. Embassy community has hired help to assist. We also decided to hire an empleada doméstica—or domestic employee—to assist with not only the cleaning of the home but also helping with Ashton, preparing meals, and even grocery shopping. We found her independently but we affiliated her with a local agency named Symplifica just so we had all of the legal stuff sorted out. She has been wonderful. She works 3 days a week and she takes a lot of pride in her work. I especially like how she makes sure we don’t go more than 2 days with any soiled laundry. Oh yeah, the whole folding clothes thing that millennials typically put off and put off: she does that with great efficiency. I really like the relationship she’s formed with Ashton. They speak to each other in Spanish and she plays with him before he jets off to school. The only thing I don’t like is that I’m capped by Colombian law on how much I can pay her.

And the Best Change Made to My Residence in 2021 is…my empleada doméstica.


Tomorrow is the last day of 2021. The Best of 2021 concludes with the last post of the calendar year for The Book of Juan.

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