After nearly a decade in the Foreign Service, the appeal of the lifestyle has lost none of its luster even if the novelty of the experience has worn off a bit, both for us and our loved ones.
In Kenya, our first posting, we hosted a nearly endless stream of visitors. Considerably fewer people visited us in Moldova and Rwanda, in part because these countries are less attractive from a tourism perspective than East Africa’s top safari destination. The Philippines’ natural charm gives it plenty of tourist appeal, but being on the other side of the world from America makes visiting challenging.
There are other reasons too for the drop-off in visitors, of course. For one, many of our friends who were single when we embarked on our first overseas tour are now married and have children. Understandably, this cuts down on their flexibility to travel. Also, we have fallen into a nice rhythm, making the most of our leave between assignments to travel around the United States and catch up with friends and family. Our loved ones know that if they can’t make it halfway around the world to see us, we’ll be back stateside again soon enough.
The upshot is that the only visitor we hosted in 2019 — the first six months of our Manila tour — was S’s mom, who accompanied her and the kids to the Philippines to help with the transition while D remained in DC. That changed as soon as the calendar rolled over to 2020. S’s parents and aunt came to visit for a proper vacation in January; we narrowly missed seeing a friend from Moldova who was on his honeymoon in the Philippines a couple of weeks ago; and this past weekend we hosted our first non-family guest — a colleague from S’s Foreign Service cohort who is serving in the region.
Because we just had the extended weekend at our disposal we did not plan anything extravagant. S found a furnished apartment to rent at Punta Fuego, Batangas, which took us two hours to reach by car. We split our outdoor time between pool and beach, played lots of board games (Munchkin is graduating toward beginner adult strategy games like Blokus and Ticket to Ride), and likely gave our friend a bit more than he bargained for in terms of time with our kids.
He got to experience the good (lots of snuggles from Junebug, who fell asleep on his chest while we ate lunch one afternoon), the bad (our kids’ fierce sibling rivalry), and the ugly (Junebug absolutely losing it over something so insignificant that we can’t even remember what triggered her forty-minute meltdown). Junebug also provided the most memorable moment of the weekend, attempting to suckle at D’s chest for comfort before asking, “why your meeples no working?” – the word sounding closer to “meatball” than “nipple.”
We also appreciated the opportunity to experience the Philippines through our friend’s eyes. Living here the last eight months, we have become somewhat inured to the country’s eccentricities. The apartment we rented belongs to a management company that owns several properties inside the Punta Fuego country club. We have long ago grown accustomed to the Philippines’ strata of exclusivity, our neighborhood being surrounded by gated villages where Manila’s upper class resides. The multiple checkpoints, numerous security guards, and layers of restricted access at the country club were a new phenomenon for our friend, however.
We spent all 23 months of our first Foreign Service posting overseas, traveling extensively but returning to the United States only after D had completed his assignment in Nairobi. We made several trips stateside during our subsequent two tours and spent significant amounts of time home when our kids were born. Given the distance and the pain of dealing with cranky jet-lagged children, we are not envisioning a family trip home during this tour. We still have 16 months left in the Philippines, however: plenty of time to plan your visit!