Farewell, July

As the month comes to a close, I can say that it has probably been the most bewildering and discouraging month I’ve had here yet. Between increasing work demands, family concerns, and illness, I am being tested, over and over again to the point where it almost seems comical, all while having less reserves than usual.

Earlier this month, we lost two of our four consular officers to the summer transition season, including our section chief. When my boss (literally) ran out the door for the airport, it occurred to me that everyone who was here when I arrived has now gone. As a first tour, untenured officer, I am now the “old hand”, although in larger posts there are dozens of line officers and the unit chiefs and section chiefs might be FS-01s or even Senior Foreign Service.

The two of us who remain have stepped up to cover a variety of tasks that far exceed our training and pay grade, not to mention an eight or even ten hour day, all while spending hours per day on the visa line – which at best is wearing, and at worst can feel like a depressing and prolonged daily physical confrontation in your third language with national security decisions in the balance. I have been working late almost every night, running the section, keeping the blank visa foils and money safe, trying to manage a complicated case load while also being the control for a large, high-visibility cross-cutting Mission initiative. In the meantime, by the end of the month we fortunately had a new vice consul to help settle in, but the arrival of a permanent or even temporary chief is not yet on the horizon.

I also have had a rough month physically. I’m going into month six of not being able to put a shoe on my left foot. My joints are swollen and warm to the point where basic mobility is a daily challenge. Arthritis seems to be settling in everywhere that it wasn’t bad before – hips, knees, elbows, ankles. I injured my wrist trying to make sure our safe was securely closed. I have gotten sick repeatedly this month – food poisoning, Tashkent Tummy from God knows what, fever and chills that come and go unexpectedly.

Several weeks ago, one of my dearest friends lost his wife unexpectedly, and was left to care for their toddler and a days-old infant on his own. The bleakness and unfairness of it hit me pretty hard. I sat and looked at the years of Christmas cards they’d sent, their faces gleaming, and couldn’t come to any conclusion whatsoever. Especially given the caliber of person he is and the quality of friend he has been to me over the years, it hurts to be so far away. If I had been in the U.S. there’s no question that I would have flown to Seattle. Here I have to plan even a day off well in advance.

This month has provided more reminders than usual about the importance of resiliency and self-care. I think it’s something that the friends and family of those serving abroad aren’t always cognizant of – that we’re out here, serving in hardship conditions, far away from the comforts and familiarity of home. Our lives are not just nonstop balls and luxury. We don’t roll around on marble in piles of money. We tend to be viewed through the lens of “the ones who left,” and can sometimes become the focal point for dissatisfaction about a variety of things that have little to do with us. Yes, we go willingly, but sending a message of support or asking about our daily lives means so much when we are thousands of miles away. The outpouring of support that I get from my parents and close friends is essential to my happiness and ability to function here.

Too often it’s only the people at a post who truly relate to what you’re doing there, and taking the time to enhance those friendships and build that community is so important. So I made an effort this week to attend two social events even though I was exhausted and wanted to sleep. I also went for a pedicure, trying not to look at my discolored, disfigured toe. I got my nails done, and sat quietly without saying a word, trying not to flinch every time she squeezed a painful joint or turned my hand at an angle it didn’t want to go. Afterwards, I felt a little more like me.

I also ask for help when I need it. After picking myself up off the bathroom floor for the third time this morning, I told my husband I was hungry. Then this arrived:


How great is that?

My husband and I have been working in the yard, planting flowers, making food for our colleagues, finding random neighborhood eateries and visiting them for the first time. Trying to create the life we want as strangers in a strange land is how we stay sane, how we support each other and make home wherever the heart is.

One of the best ways I have found to stay resilient is to keep moving forward and to keep looking ahead. In the next months, my mom will visit Uzbekistan and we will travel on to Hungary and Russia. I will also travel to India for work in the autumn, celebrate my birthday, and my husband and I are also planning weekends in Kazakhstan and maybe Dubai. And of course, next year there’s another R&R to look forward to, followed by Home Leave to California and ultimately… Australia.

For now, tomorrow’s another day.

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2 thoughts on “Farewell, July

  1. Mitsy

    Wow, I’m really sorry to hear you’re having a hard time at the moment. I remember when I hit some low points living abroad in Paris (loneliness is real in France) and Haiti (both for graduate school studies). If I hadn’t had access to the Internet to reach out to my friends, I don’t know what I would have done.

    My condolences for your friend’s loss. What a crazy hard thing to go through–the inability to be there for your friend. I sympathize greatly. My best friend went through something similar very recently; he was in Cambodia when one of his oldest friends died in an accident. He wasn’t able to attend the funeral, but sent over a video to play at the service. I hope you and your friend (especially) are finding comfort, some way, some how.

    Is your experience being the “old hand” at post typical for smaller missions? In the best of circumstances, it could have been great to take on a leadership role so early, but I can relate to how hard it can be to try to operate at 100% when you’re speaking another language (and I’m a quasi-native French speaker…it was mentally taxing to work on finding the right words while unforgiving French folk corrected every little thing!)

    Lastly, how amazing are you that with all the illnesses and conditions you have, you are still on your feet as much as you can be (and mega points to hubby!) It does make me wonder about the Medical Clearance–I think I read somewhere that diabetes used to be a condition that would disqualify you. That seems super harsh, and even though I think this is no longer the case, thee is a lot of mystery around the medical clearance stuff. Was your psoriatic arthritis a concern for you and the medical examiners? I ask because though I am very fortunate to be in good physical health, my partner has tendonitis and pituitary issues, and we are both concerned about getting clearance (that is, if I even pass the QEP! Chickens yada yada, hatching yada yada, ha). I’m mostly curious about your process, not asking you to evaluate our circumstances!

    Anyway, sending you positive vibes from Boston. Keep up the good work, and catch you on the next post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitsy, thanks for your comment! After I wrote this post, I got the flu and a cold for a week and asked myself again why Uzbekistan hates me!

      Our embassy’s consular section is small, so we do have a chance to stretch a lot. My colleagues in large posts may work in one unit during their whole two year tour, with two or three levels of consular management above them. Here we are the management, and we cover all portfolios. So that is an excellent opportunity to learn. Until someone gets the flu. 🙂 One criticism is that I sometimes feel an inch deep and a mile wide on some matters. I routinely work 10 hours a day just to keep up, but I feel like I could still cover things more completely had I more hours in the day. Not to mention that there are a lot of other things in the mission that entry level officers are involved with, not just primary duties.

      When trying to enter the Foreign Service, the medical clearance process is very strict. You have to enter as Class 1, worldwide available (no conditions that could not be supported at any post) even if later your clearance level is downgraded (as mine recently was). During my candidacy I was almost terminated between the OA and being added to the register. Med held me for almost nine nerve-wracking months because they wanted me to transition off some medication I was taking (which would leave me vulnerable to TB and other opportunistic infections if I used it in most of the world). Eventually I stabilized without it and made it to the register, where I waited for another sixteen months before receiving my A-100 offer.

      People have many reasons for their level to be Class 2 or lower – an illness that needs close supervision, medication that poses risks when administered in some places, etc. And that is OK – you just can’t come in Class 2. It’s rough to get terminated after you made it that far, and the process is opaque in that each person is allegedly handled on a case-by-case basis. There is no list of conditions you “better not” have. At the end of the day, Med wants to minimize medical evacuations, costs to the USG and a ton of folks who can only serve in the garden spots. Fair enough. Family medical clearances are a separate ball of yarn – a family member’s health issues wouldn’t impact your candidacy but later in service if they couldn’t get cleared to go where you were assigned there would be other considerations. Hope this makes sense. Disclaimer – all of this is just my opinion/experience.

      Say hello to Boston for me!

      Like

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