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between two worlds

Azure, still waters of an alpine lake, shimmering under the glare of the noontime sun, cold as the snow-melt that feeds it. The craggy contour of jagged mountains, dappled in snow, ringed by evergreens. The flutter of a bird-wing and its owner’s clarion song — nature’s calling cards, beckoning us toward adventure. These are the mementos from our home leave road trip this past summer, and the images that fill our imagination in planning our next sojourn out West over the winter holidays.

These two trips will bookend our half-year stateside in 2018. The intervening months contain a world of upheaval and readjustment. The first trip, which after much deliberation we decided to take with the kids, proved an all-too-brief reprieve — an opportunity to recharge our batteries after the hectic scramble to tie up loose ends in Kigali and before the even more hectic scramble to get settled in DC. The second trip will be a true vacation — the first time in the 18 months since Junebug’s birth that we will travel without the kids.

Much needed though this getaway surely is, already we have felt our stress levels come down over the course of the last month or two. Munchkin is settled in his French immersion pre-K and loving it. Junebug similarly feels at home with her nanny-share and, in contrast to the tears she initially shed, hardly notices when D leaves for work after dropping her off in the morning. After a few hiccups, we finally got our new car registered and our finances straightened out, insofar as that’s possible given DC’s sky-high cost of living.

On the work front, S is trying not to be overwhelmed by her Tagalog training. The language is not as hard as Arabic or Polish, for example, but it is so completely foreign to her that she struggles with retaining vocabulary and can’t help but worry about passing the final test. Everyone we know in the Foreign Service community tells S not to stress about testing out, which is kind of like telling a person suffering from depression to cheer up. S is on language probation, which means she has to acquire sufficient proficiency to meet State Department standards in one of her first two assignments. She just missed the bar with French a couple of summers ago, and the possibility of failure with Tagalog weighs on her mind.

For D, after 3-4 hectic months, things have slowed down ahead of the approaching holidays. The first month D was forced to dedicate primarily to resolving various administrative hurdles (more than three weeks just to get an account transferred!) and trying to learn his new job responsibilities on the fly. The next couple of months his portfolio got busy just as the bidding season crunch hit. D was unsuccessful in securing an onward and is still looking for an assignment, but the process has slowed down considerably and does not require nearly as much daily attention and energy.

The difference in our stress levels from just a couple of months ago is telling in the activities that occupy our still limited free time. S still spends her evenings studying, but we’ve also found time to sort our photos and order holiday cards; D is making headway in his quest to read all Pulitzer-winning novels and our blog has experienced a bit of a resurgence. Early in our DC tenure we struggled to find the time and energy to organize play dates for Munchkin and social outings for ourselves, which we are now trying to actively remedy.

That we are feeling more settled does not mean that we feel at home, however. The two-year duration of our overseas assignments is short relative to those of other countries’ diplomatic corps, but it is long enough to enable us to make our assigned houses feel like homes. In our three stints overseas we have decorated, painted the walls, filled the rooms with our things, and planted gardens to make ourselves feel at home in a foreign land.

This house, on the other hand, will always feel like a temporary residence — one, moreover, that is already halfway behind us. With most of our belongings in storage, we rented a semi-furnished house. Our landlords’ decorations remain on the walls and their furniture crowds the rooms. And while we probably shipped back more stuff than we need, some crucial items we now realize we should have brought back with us were sent to storage instead.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have begun to turn our gaze toward Manila, researching housing possibilities and school options for Munchkin, and making connections in our soon-to-be host country. We’ll return from leave just as the calendar flips to 2019 — a new page in our Foreign Service adventure, which will entail a new flurry of administrative and logistical activity at the outset of the new year.

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