It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to be regaled by a living legend. Although Richard Leakey does not have the star power of your typical celebrity, his life and his life’s work have deservedly made him famous not just in Kenya but the world over.
It has been barely six months since S’s last job interview and it’s time for her to start networking and job searching again. Working a 40-hour week and starting to question her public health calling, she has found it increasingly more difficult to summon the motivation to send out networking emails and reformat resumes and cover letters to apply for jobs in our to-be home of Chisinau.
The benefit of serving at a large post like Nairobi is that there are more opportunities for spouses. For example, the State Department has an Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) through which the Department designates entry-level Foreign Service positions for EFMs. Not every embassy has EPAP positions, but Nairobi, because of its size, is fortunate to have two – one in General Services and the other in the Economic Section – and both were open this year.
It’s sometimes hard to reconcile the progressive policies of the State Department with the antiquated reality of life in the Foreign Service. We work for a government that defends the human rights of LGBT individuals, supports increased access and inclusion for people with disabilities, and promotes gender equality abroad, yet somehow still expects the majority of its employees to have stay-at-home spouses. Small wonder that spousal employment is the top preoccupation for Foreign Service Officers – the opportunities are so few and the hurdles so numerous that few FSO spouses manage to sustain a meaningful professional career.
Even though it took almost a year for D to get his security clearance, the timing could not have worked out better. His swearing-in ceremony coincided with S’s graduation from grad school, and several weeks later we departed for our first overseas assignment. Although this timeline made for a hectic move, it also meant that S did not have to look for a job while she was finishing her degree in international public health. Not only did S not have to disrupt her career to follow D abroad, as many Foreign Service spouses do, but we also hoped that joining the Foreign Service would give her career a boost.
When we lived in Chicago, S accidentally fried her cell phone by dunking it into a cup of tea. It was only a split second before her mind realized that a full teacup was probably not the best resting place for her phone, but by then it was too late. The phone never turned on again. Interestingly, when D lived in Ecuador, his friend’s wife frequently did laundry without checking the pockets of his pants. She must have washed his cell phone at least a dozen times and every time it came back to life. She would take out the battery, use a hair dryer to get rid of the moisture, and voila! S also tried drying out her phone, even placing it in a bag of rice, but to no avail.
In the aftermath of the 1998 Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, a fierce debate ensued among our government leaders. On the one hand, some argued in favor of diminishing our presence on this continent, and especially in the volatile Horn of Africa, to reduce the risk to our diplomatic and development corps. Others countered that to withdraw in the face of terrorist attacks was the wrong response. They argued in favor of increasing our footprint abroad while making security upgrades to lower the threat profile of our embassies. This view ultimately carried the day, and not only did the State Department build a massive new embassy in Nairobi, but the Mission also began to grow by leaps and bounds.
Although we missed being home, Kenya was probably the best place to be outside of the United States to watch last night’s election coverage. With the first polls closing at 3am Nairobi time, and the election viewing breakfast set to start at 5am, we knew that a victor would not be declared before sunrise. The Kenyans who had been invited, however, did not want to miss a single thing and flocked to the event in droves. Arriving at the Ambassador’s residence a quarter before five, D found a long line of invitees snaking along the pavement, waiting to go through security.
The abrupt, and rather spectacular resignation of our last ambassador left a brief power vaccuum in the Embassy’s Executive Office. If this had been a small, sleepy post, the Embassy would have likely functioned without an ambassador until after the U.S. elections. Given Nairobi’s geo-political importance, however, the State Department deemed that the post could not go long without an acting Chief of Mission.