Catching up

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What a long strange seven months it’s been.

It doesn’t feel like that long ago that I wrote the last blog post about landing back in the U.S. from Australia and how foreign and temporary it all felt. In an irony that will continue to haunt me, in late January we decided we were tired of missing Australia and our friends there, so we started making plans to visit friends, go out to restaurants, do a little traveling, and, generally, make our time in the Washington area feel more concrete and less temporary. We signed C up for skating and gymnastics, we enrolled her in several camps, and we all made some new friends, as well as spending more time with our old friends. We planned a birthday party for her with lots of visiting family, I planned a “girls weekend” with my sister and mother, we made reservations at several excellent area restaurants, and we all got excited looking forward to enjoying our time back home.

And then came March.

I know no one needs me to rehash what we’ve all been experiencing since then. Let’s just say that when I wrote that post about coming home, I never considered that life would feel even more strange and foreign six months later.  But, I can safely say, after being locked down in a pretty small corporate apartment for 5 months without seeing any family or friends (other than on Zoom, of course), that I’ll try very hard never to complain again about feeling isolated when I have the whole world to explore, and everyone I love to hug and visit whenever the mood strikes me.

 

We have been immeasurably lucky during this crazy time. We have jobs. We had somewhere to live. We had our health. Our families all had the same. And our training pretty much went on with barely a blip. We walked out of our classrooms on Friday and were right back in a virtual setting on Monday morning.

I was particularly lucky as I got to continue in Turkish training for an additional two months – enough to get a better score than I needed and, I hope, to ensure that I really can say a few words in Turkish when I arrive in Istanbul in a few weeks. I was also pretty lucky that B decided to try his hand at all kinds of interesting and delicious cooking – including Turkish manti – basically little bitty meat filled ravioli-like bundles of yumminess.

 

The language training department at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) did a really impressive job of pivoting, such that almost all the students I know – in a variety of languages – never missed a beat. I’m not going to lie and say that I preferred being virtual since, even though there are some definite benefits to it, I really missed the human interaction with both my friends and my teachers. Nevertheless, the lock-down’s effect on my learning was negligible, at best, and I’m going to Turkey better prepared than I expected to be.

B definitely got the short end of the training stick, as he had opted to test in Turkish 10 weeks early so that he could get to Post and help out as soon as possible since his position was unfilled at the time. He got the score he needed – and worked hard to get it, but then he didn’t get to leave early and ended up missing out on the extra language training many of us received.

His loss was our family’s gain, however, as he took on primary “Daddy School” duties with C, while I spent 5 hours a day on Zoom – speaking, reading and listening to Turkish. B and C developed a great schedule mixing up school and creative time, with some exercise (once a day they rode bikes to the Lincoln Memorial and back) and a little bit of Zelda playing. C’s Christmas present Nintendo Switch really came in useful during our isolation – as we all (me in particular, if I’m being honest…) spent long hours lost in the world of Zelda, exploring a place where people didn’t have to stay 6 feet away (except from monsters) and weren’t always wearing masks when you saw them.

 

In late June, I wrapped up my language training and B wrapped up his functional training and we spent three glorious weeks in Michigan and North Carolina hiking and hanging out on a beach or two. We *mostly* stayed away from people – making an exception for some family and friends – all of whom had also been in almost constant isolation since March.

 

Unfortunately for me, I still had 6 weeks of “ConGen” functional training to do before I could go to Istanbul, so in July I bid C and B goodbye (and good luck since they were the first people to go to post since March) and they headed to Istanbul. They’ve since survived their 14-day self-isolation, and have started to explore our new neighborhood.

I’ve promised myself that I really will get back to writing here a little more frequently. And, I suspect that, while Istanbul is, as C told me in one of our first calls, “more like American than I expected,” it will also, like Kinshasa, provide me with a rich and vibrant tapestry of new and different foods, people and cultural places to talk about (not to mention the literal Turkish carpet type tapestries that I am hoping to indulge in early and often…).

In the meantime, as anxious as I am to join them, I’ve got a couple of weeks left of ConGen to get through before I can leave. Once I finish learning the ins and outs of visas, passports and “special services” (intriguing, eh?), I’ll be on my way to our newest adventure with pen (or keyboard) – and, of course my mask – at the ready.

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Coming home

7xSwzdEWSa2Ij6Y0fbsT4gIt’s a cruel irony of this Foreign Service life that coming back to the U.S. – home – often seems like the hardest transition we make. I’m not gonna lie, I thought was READY to leave Australia. I felt like I was ready almost before we got there. I cried when we got the assignment and somehow managed to convince myself that my initial disappointment in the posting should translate into two years of, basically, waiting to get home.

And now, here we are and I have come to the realization that our time in Canberra came to an end without me ever noticing how good it was until it was over.

My excuse for not writing for almost the entire time we were in Australia was that I didn’t want to be a negative Nelly. I didn’t want my posts to repeatedly devolve into a list of complaints about how Australia was “just” America light, or “Southern Hemisphere Canada,” and how I couldn’t wait to get back Stateside.

And then, all of a sudden, it was over and we were winging our (long, long) way back across the Pacific. I didn’t shed a single tear when we took off from Sydney. By contrast I bawled from the moment we left our house in Kinshasa until we were well over Gabon.

But now, almost 6 months after getting my American legs back under me I find myself pining for Canberra far more often than I pined for Kinshasa.

IMG_4379I suspect part of what I’m feeling is that in retrospect I’ve realized our Australian tour was wonderful in a million different ways that I was too stubborn to acknowledge while we were in the middle of it. But, in addition to that, I am desperate to get back to feeling “settled.”

Despite my near constant desire to get “home” while we were 10,000 miles away, now that we are back it feels less like a “home” and more like a rest stop.

And, really, that is what this irest stops for us – and for all our FS compatriots who are not officially “posted” to Washington. We are technically on “TDY” (Temporary DutY) in DC. Most of our “stuff” is either in storage or waiting patiently for us in (or near) Istanbul. We are living in a furnished corporate apartment – our second since we returned in August – and we constantly have one eye on the calendar, the news and the things we need to do before we get to Turkey in the summer of 2020.

Oh yeah, in case I haven’t mentioned, our next post – starting at some point in August or September 2020 is Istanbul, Turkey.

So right now, our jobs are, quite literally, to learn Turkish. Every day B and I walk to a building in Arlington and spend 5-6 speaking, reading and listening to Turkish. It is çok iyi. But that’s a hikaye for another post.