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transfer purgatory

Since returning home from Kigali, we had been in a state of limbo. Naturally, we took advantage of D’s home leave to go exploring out west, but S was forced to cut her travels short, returning to DC for the start of her Foreign Service Orientation. The opaqueness of the assignments process and the temporary lodging she took up in Virginia while D stayed out west only served to further underscore the sense of suspense and uncertainty. Should we settle in and get comfortable? Or would DC serve as but a brief stopover before our next overseas destination? Until Flag Day, it was impossible to tell.

Foreign Service Officers frequently gripe that Washington – rather than the far-flung and sometimes uncomfortable or dangerous places we serve abroad – is the real hardship assignment. No office or social sponsors to help one get settled at work and in the community. No GSO (general services office) to call when something goes wrong with the house. No house, for that matter: in lieu of the furnished lodgings that await diplomats upon arrival overseas, back in DC everyone is on their own. We knew all of that, of course, and prepared accordingly, anticipating all the while that no matter how much advanced planning and thought went into our transfer, we would be at the mercy of a myriad of factors beyond our control.

For example, we packed two shipments of unaccompanied air baggage – one on S’s travel orders and the other on D’s – but only one arrived initially. We received D’s shipment the day we moved into our rental house, as planned. It contained five of the seven boxes we had packed, so we got most of the stuff we thought we’d need to make our semi-furnished rental house habitable. Unfortunately, the remaining two boxes – the ones that had been packed out under S’s name – took a side trip to Nairobi and got stuck in a warehouse there. This meant that we had bedding but no pillows, and plates but no cutlery. D wound up using a toy ladle from Munchkin’s play kitchen, which had somehow found its way into one of our suitcases, to eat soup until we borrowed some spoons and forks from D’s sister.

We had been worried about how Munchkin would handle the transition, but he seems to have taken this move in stride, aided no doubt by tons of quality time with his grandparents. Junebug, on the other hand, has struggled a bit – particularly in terms of adapting to her new sleeping arrangements. It could be that she’s going through a difficult, clingy phase, of course. Also the pack-n-play we’ve been using until her crib arrives with the rest of our household effects (hopefully by the end of the month) is clearly less than ideal. Whatever the cause, getting her to sleep in it has been an ever worsening daily nightmare. On the flip side, she continues to be a good eater. “Ma-mam-mam” is her first real word, typically uttered with a sense of desperate urgency whenever she spies us eating something we’re not sharing with her.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the transition to fathom has been D’s new job at the Department. For one, serving domestically is a bit different from the work we do overseas. The first few days, D found his head swimming with unfamiliar acronyms. More importantly, despite the fact that State Department operations are premised on a mobile workforce that transitions from post to post every couple of years, the Department does an atrocious job of transferring employees between assignments. A week and a half in, D’s IT accounts remain hopelessly stuck in transfer mode, leaving him locked out from most of the tools he needs to actually do his job.

As the excitement of Flag Day subsides, we can now focus on settling in for real, knowing that this will be our longest stretch stateside since we started this Foreign Service adventure seven years ago.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Another baby, another transition: In 1955 Caracas, I was 9 months old and my mother, the accompanying spouse, was one month in to Dad’s FS career.

    “Janie had been a perfect angel all that day, sitting quietly in her stroller watching everyone while eleven men moved our things into our new apartment. You can imagine that all was pretty much in turmoil around here. Janie of course became tired and by the time we got to the the PAO’s she was both sleepy and hungry. As soon as we got there she started to fuss, and first their maid and then her friend grabbed her from me, thinking that they knew best what the baby needed, when all she wanted was Momma and the bottle and quiet. Well, it was a hectic night, let me tell you, with babbling in Spanish and English and Janie wailing on and on. She seemed frightened to death and it about broke our hearts to see her so truly unhappy.

    Well, it turned out that we were expected to hire her then and there. It was a surprise and we felt quite obliged, but we both had nightmares about Janie disliking the gal. Bob picked her up on Wednesday, and we waited to see Janie’s reaction. She loved her! We were so relieved.”

    August 11, 2018
    • Some things haven’t really changed while others definitely have.

      August 11, 2018

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