July was the first month since we embarked on our Foreign Service adventure more than eight years ago that our blog remained completely inactive. Over the years, these pages have helped us stay in touch with our loved ones, served as an outlet for our creative writing needs, and helped us document our children’s early days. We have long wondered when the moment would come to retire this Foreign Service scrapbook, and though our blog has gone dormant of late, we do not think we’ve quite reached the point of calling it quits. Rather, we are in the midst of a hiatus, induced by our circumstances.
Posts from the ‘Foreign Service’ Category
After trying and failing to secure a position in Manila to align with S’s directed assignment to the Philippines, D moved on to Plan B – searching for a Washington-based job that he could perform remotely, known as a DETO in Foreign Service parlance. Just a couple of weeks into the search, it became abundantly clear that securing a DETO would be an uphill battle. After six months in which D spent about as much time and energy on the job search as on performing his actual job, he began to think of DETOs as the State Department’s unicorns – rumored to exist but impossible to find and pin down.
Excitement tends to be the most common emotion people ascribe to us when they hear that we’re headed to the Philippines for our next Foreign Service assignment. Nervousness comes in at a distant second. “You’re moving to Manila? That’s so exciting!” “Are you excited? You must be so excited!” We fielded similar queries from friends, relatives, and total strangers prior to departing for our first tour in Kenya, and again ahead of the move to Moldova, and also in the run-up to our assignment in Rwanda.
Self-help books, mindfulness blogs, and mental health articles abound with exhortations to live in the moment and advice on how to make the most of each day. Aside from the clichés of squeezing every drop of joy out of each unique experience we accumulate when serving overseas, being able to focus on the present while relentlessly planning for the future is a requisite skill for the Foreign Service. Considering how often we relocate, the temptation is always there to cast our sights toward the next assignment, the next move, or the next country – to envision the possibilities and continuously stress about the unknown. Without a firm grip on the present one can easily descend into madness.
June is just around the corner, marking the end of D’s first Washington assignment and the beginning of S’s first tour as a Foreign Service Officer. The last eleven months represent the longest stretch of time we have spent Stateside since embarking on this whirlwind Foreign Service adventure eight years ago. It feels as if we have just settled into a good groove in the District, but this chapter is almost over, and the next adventure – in the Philippines – beckons.
Time may fly when one is having fun, but it also refuses to stand still when life feels too busy to handle. The last month has rushed by in a blur or work, last-minute language study, hockey, concerts, friends, kids’ play dates, soccer practice, and ordinary humdrum days during which the mere act of getting the kids fed and to bed sapped our energy reserves completely. We had planned to put together a 100-day countdown post, but that marker passed weeks ago. We now have less than 75 days left Stateside before our next move.
As a general rule, we avoid political, sensitive, and potentially divisive subjects in this blog. We write about our travels, our kids, and life in the Foreign Service while steering clear of the polemics of local politics and the issues we work on overseas. Despite spending some of our Foreign Service careers in Washington, we also try to ignore Washington intrigue and rarely discuss American politics. That said, it would be intellectually dishonest to continue posting about our goings-on without writing about the ongoing government shutdown, which is now in its 24th day and has come to be a prominent feature of our careers and our lives.
“A moment of silence, please/
for those who never get the chance.
They show up to the party/
but they’re never asked to dance.”
It’s funny, this quality that certain songs possess of burrowing into the subconscious and then surfacing on a moment’s notice when their lyrics come in perfect harmony with our lives, as if they had been written for us or about us. Songs of love and loss are the most obvious examples, given the universality of these human experiences, but there are other, more off-beat matches when a song’s lyrics mysteriously fit and the totality of the music expresses one’s emotions much more perfectly than words alone ever could. The song playing on repeat in D’s mind these days is Streetlight Manifesto’s “A Moment of Silence” — a loser anthem that cuts to the core of D’s current job search frustrations despite being written about something else entirely. Read more
Yesterday was handshake day: the end of two months of nerve-wrecking lobbying for those Foreign Service Officers who received onward assignments and the beginning of the second round of stressful scrambling for those who did not. D knew well in advance of the formal announcements that he would be without a handshake, a first in his FS tenure that significantly raises the likelihood that next summer he will have a career but no job to go with it.
There are many ways in which the Foreign Service career turns life into a study in contrasts, the opportunity to immerse oneself in disparate cultures the world over being the most obvious. One of the things we find most challenging – and necessary now that we have two kids – is maintaining structure in the face of the great unknown that always lurks a year or two beyond our current assignment.