five years in the books
This week marks the 5th anniversary of D’s entry into the Foreign Service. While our first two tours flew by at breakneck speed, with hardly a break between them, the last half-year of language training has offered a measure of calm. Emerging from a long winter and even longer break in our travels, we are looking forward to the new adventures that await. Rwanda beckons this summer, and before we turn our attention to Africa there is also an overseas language immersion trip in our more immediate future.
Anniversaries tend to provide fertile ground for stock-taking and recollection. Rather than review D’s career trajectory, however, we decided to take this opportunity to revisit our bucket list, which we penned in a tent on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro early in our first year with the State Department. We’ve added to the original list since, and our last handful of trips have given us some more ideas even as we crossed a few items off the list. To wit:
— We had long wanted to road-trip across the United States. Having now spent both of our home leaves doing precisely that, it occurred to us that we should probably try to visit all 50 U.S. states. For all of our international travel, we have hardly explored the United States at all. There are only 21 states that we have both visited, and a handful others where only one of us has been.
— The U.S. National Park Service manages hundreds of protected areas across our vast country. Only 59 of them, however, are designated as national parks. Visiting all of them seems like a worthwhile endeavor. We have been to 13 thus far.
— One of the half dozen items we crossed off our list recently was hiking in the Grand Canyon. However, we only visited the North Rim, and thus could not go rafting inside America’s most famous canyon. As we descended the North Kaibab trail a couple thousand feet into the canyon, we crossed paths with several hikers who aimed to spend the night before continuing all the way to the canyon floor. In fact, it is possible to cross the Grand Canyon on a multi-day rim-to-rim hike, which we would like to do one day.
— Our near-miss in the Wave lottery firmly reaffirmed our desire to one day hike this amazing natural formation. It also called to mind the lottery for permits to ascend Half Dome, Yosemite’s iconic peak, which has been on our list since we visited the park several years ago.
— Traveling brings into tension two competing desires. On the one hand, our wanderlust always pushes us to explore new places. On the other hand, there are many amazing places we have visited that we would like to see again. Sometimes, tweaking the circumstances of one’s visit can make a familiar place seem as exotic as a completely unknown location. On our way up to Angel’s Landing, we passed several hikers who had camped out in the park so that they could see the sunrise from Zion’s most unforgettable viewpoint. That is something we’d like to do when we return to Utah next. Sunrise at Bryce Point would also be pretty special.
— The rains washed out our plans to hike in southern Utah’s unique slot canyons. Weather permitting, the next time we are in the Southwest, we would like to go canyoneering down into a slot canyon.
— We both have a keen interest in photography, and would like to get better at it, if we could only find the time. S had taken a photography class in college, and this year she surprised D with one for his birthday. For D, this was a first step in being able to get more out of our camera (or, as his teacher said, get more out of himself). For S, it was a reminder that she too would like to brush up on her photography skills.
Of the things we have managed to cross off our list, a few are trivial: going to a multi-day music festival and having a Guinness at the Dublin factory, for example. The one we are most proud of is the progress we have made on our languages. Our levels of fluency vary, and the languages we don’t use (Russian for S; Swahili and Romanian for D) tend to get buried to the point of oblivion in the cobwebs of our mind. Still, French is the fourth language S has learned, and the sixth for D. After almost five months of intensive study, we have made considerable progress, which we’ll put to the test in Paris next month.