I’ve got a confession to make. It’s not as embarrassing as telling you that I haven’t written a blog post in 3 months because I’ve been playing Candy Crush (I swear I haven’t…B says: Yes, she has.) but nevertheless I am going to have to eat some of my literal words. Almost exactly a year ago I got on my high horse here. I really meant what I said then about the State Department taking advantage of family members, and failing to recognise the amazing pool of talent it has at its disposal, but it turns out that, when push came to shove, I wasn’t quite as willing as I professed to follow through on my threats to boycott all State Department employment forever and ever, amen.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still angry about the short-sightedness of the “new” State Department when it comes to hiring family members and I stand by my rant. But, here’s the thing, finding a job on the economy in a new country is hard. Sure, being in an English-speaking country makes it easier, but unless you want to work in retail, or wait tables, it’s not that easy to convince an employer to devote time to orienting and training you when you are going to bug out in – at least for us in our second tour – two years or less.
I told B that I’d just “be a barista” when we got here, but in Australia baristas are REALLY TALENTED. Like, coffee is a religion and it is hard not to worship at its caffeinated, frothy-milked-goodness altar. Starbucks FAILED in Oz – seriously. Unlike in the U.S., where it is shocking to me when I have to walk more than two blocks to find a green mermaid to wake me up, Starbucks came to Australia and it did not conquer. There are a few stores – in purely touristy areas in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – beyond that you can keep your tall, grande and ventis to yourself. Frankly, I am no more qualified to be a barista in Australia, than I am to be a doctor. I did take a barista course – which was seriously SO much fun – but again, coffee = religion, and the priests are cool 20-somethings, not uncool 50-year-old lawyers-cum-SAHMs.
So what’s a girl to do? I considered reaching out to prior clients and lawyer friends in the U.S. and seeing if they needed overnight proof-reading, drafting, research, etc…, but that 14-hour time difference (which changes varyingly to 15-hour and then 16-hour – thanks, daylight savings) makes life complicated. I considered decorating cakes (after I took that course too), or making things to sell with all the African pagne fabric I brought back with me. But, when it comes right down to it, I know myself and I am not an entrepreneur. I am also much more likely to take the easy way out if it is available to me. I’m the person who Googles “easy” or “quick” before every recipe I’m looking for, so it’s not that shocking that I don’t want to start from scratch and build a new career here – especially one I’ll have to wave goodbye to in 24 months.
Maybe all this is even why I was SO angry about the alleged “corporate welfare” comment and the family member hiring freeze to begin with. The State Department pays a lot of lip service to all the jobs you “could” get as a family member as you uproot your family every two or three years – teach, work for an NGO, work remotely, write, work on the local economy and on and on – but the reality is that the effort, energy and time it would take to prepare for and invest in a new career every 730 days is daunting.
All of this is why, when the hiring freeze was partially lifted and several interesting jobs were posted, I got off my high horse and accepted the reality that, for an EFM who wants to work, but who also wants an employer who understands the vagaries of Foreign Service life there is really only one employer that qualifies – the U.S. Government. Applying and interviewing for a job was an interesting process – especially since the last time I did it was over 20 years ago – but ultimately I was offered the job as the Special Assistant to the United States Ambassador to Australia.
Things are complicated a bit by the fact that currently there is no Ambassador to Australia, but never fear – even without ambassadors, assistant secretaries and a myriad of other higher level State Department positions which have gone unfilled lo these many months, things continue to carry on – both here in Canberra, and in all the U.S.’s overseas missions. Foreign Service Officers, and the EFMs and local staff who work with them, know how to keep diplomacy moving – even when it feels like a rudderless ship. When no Ambassador is appointed to a country then the person who is the second in command, the “DCM” or “Deputy Chief of Mission” in DOS parlance, steps into the representative role as the “Chargé d’Affaires,” which, en anglais, means the “person charged with matters.”
For a little while we did have an ambassadorial nominee, Admiral Harry Harris, the current head of the Pacific Command (or PACOM, which sounds to me like a payday lender, but that’s another story…). A friend of mine “in the know” described Admiral Harris as “the coolest 4-star you’ll ever meet,” and I was looking forward to meeting and working with him, but as of last Wednesday he has been reassigned to be U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, and we will continue to carry on here in Oz with our fantastic chargé at the helm. In June, assuming no one else is nominated and confirmed in the next two months, he will become my boss and I’m looking forward to working with him too.
In the meantime, things in Australia are good. As depicted in the photos below, we have continued to take advantage of the First World by traveling, enjoying the outdoors, welcoming visitors, and indulging regularly in the conspicuous consumption of food, wonderful Aussie wine, and consumer goods that can be purchased down the road, rather than requiring an Amazon Prime membership and a two-week wait. I promise I will try harder to write more often in the months of unemployment I have left, but you know that Candy Crush, she’s a jealous mistress…