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.
Posts tagged ‘Foreign Service’
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.
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.
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.