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.
Posts tagged ‘Foreign Service’
It is difficult to predict where one’s career in the Foreign Service might lead. Joining the State Department speaking Russian and Spanish, D hardly expected to spend two of his first three tours in Africa, for example. Similarly, S’s assignment to Manila was far from a no-brainer, as she had scant Asia experience before arriving in the Philippines last summer. It is entirely possible that the capricious nature of the bidding process may return us to Asia again, though given our languages and regional expertise in other parts of the world, we wouldn’t necessarily bet on it. At any rate, we’ve approached this tour as our one unique opportunity to see as much of the region as possible.
A few years ago, the NY Times ran an op-ed encouraging travelers to plan less, ostensibly to reduce stress. It stuck with us, not because we found the advice helpful but rather because we thought the piece thoroughly infuriating and completely out of touch, a flippant acknowledgment that “for most travelers, particularly those with families, such an extreme lack of planning seems impossible, even inadvisable” notwithstanding. We traveled like this during our backpacking days, but that was before grad school, marriage, kids, and careers. Once adult responsibilities entered the picture, such travel became out of reach. During his recent visit to Nepal, D found an opportunity to practice what the article preached. Whether arriving in country with only half of his work itinerary booked led to less stress is debatable, but D did manage to turn a potential bureaucratic nightmare into an enjoyable adventure.
Certain countries possess an undeniable mystique, holding sway over one’s imagination long before one has the opportunity to visit. For D, Nepal was high on this list, though his fascination had more to do with the country’s landscape than its reputed spirituality (as one travel guide puts it, “Nepal is a one-stop spiritual destination: every activity here revolves around finding yourself, seeking your roots…”). Ever since D got into mountain climbing during his Peace Corps days in Ecuador – and especially after reading a handful of mountaineering books – he had longed to see the Himalayas.
As Americans living in Manila, we are frequently struck by how much the Philippines— much more so than other countries where we’ve served — reminds us of home while simultaneously retaining its own distinct cultural identity. This is to be expected, of course. Not only do our two countries share a long history, but also the four million Filipinos who call the United States home ensure a continuous sharing of cultural customs and traditions. This is especially evident during the holidays.
From an early age, Munchkin exhibited a keen curiosity for photography – an interest we have nurtured, especially because it kept him engaged and occupied during our travels. Although he sometimes treated the camera as more of a handheld video game, he managed to produce quite a number of interesting shots on our trips to South Africa and Europe. It was also fascinating to see the things that attracted his attention closer to home during the year that we spent in the States.
The best part of D’s Manila homecoming was the two weeks of leave he took upon arrival in the Philippines. Ordinarily, we try to maximize our vacation days for travel. In fact, this might be the first time during our nine years in the Foreign Service – other than when our kids were born – that either one of us took an extended period of time off and just stayed home.
If expectation management is the key to happiness, then we came to the Philippines well prepared. Good friends from all three of our previous posts have either served or lived here, and a friend from our Nairobi days now calls the Philippines home. We did not know exactly what to expect – as so much of one’s experience of the Philippine capital depends on where in the city one lives – but, based on what they shared, we had a fairly good idea.
The one thing D had meant to do but didn’t before leaving the States was to sharpen his skates. Ice hockey is likely not the first sport that springs to mind when one thinks of the Philippines. In fact, the country’s national hockey team only participated in its first official international tournament two years ago. The team finished third in the second division at the 2017 Southeast Asia Games and remains unranked by the IIHF. Once D found out there was a hockey scene in Manila, he endeavored to get on a team before arriving in the Philippines.
A bird’s eye view of Manila offers a fascinating glimpse of life in this city. Open up Google Earth and zoom in on the Philippine capital, and you’ll see a warren of densely populated construction – a telltale sign of a crowded metropolis. In fact, Manila proper – with an estimated population of just under two million – is the world’s most densely populated city. There are more than 41,000 inhabitants for each square kilometer of Manila, which easily dwarfs the population density of Mumbai and Dhaka – the next two cities on the list – each of which boasts just over 28,000 residents per square kilometer.