Flag Day Recap

Flag Day!

Flag Day!

When I first started telling my friends and coworkers that we were leaving Charlotte to join the Foreign Service, the reaction I got most often was a wistful look and words that generally went like this:

“Wow. That is SO cool.  Gosh, I’m actually kind of jealous.”

Luckily for my ego this was usually followed by, “Oh, and I’m really sad you’re leaving.”

I understood the note of envy in people’s voices. After all how many people have the opportunity to live a crazy adventure after the age of about 25?  Not many.

I suspect, however, that when I sent out my blast email around 4:30 p.m. last Friday saying “And the winner is…Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo” a lot of those same people felt a lot less envious.  I know (from the emails and texts I soon started receiving) that many, in fact, left the envy behind and replaced it with worry for us, and thankfulness for their own non-African future.

B and our new flag

But, while Kinshasa is not London, or Paris, or Rome, it is exactly what we wanted – and we are very excited. We won’t be leaving until next July – which seems like an interminable time to me (when you make this kind of leap you want to leap right away!) – giving us lots of time to learn about our new home.  It also gives B lots of time to learn a new language (French) and for me to brush up on my (I hope) solid base of French from my Canadian days.

I’m sure I’ll be writing plenty about Kinshasa as I learn about it, but this post is about Flag Day.

So, when Sept. 26, 2014 started, as I mentioned in my last proper post, I wasn’t particularly worried.  Decision had been made, out of my hands…yada yada.

Fast forward about half way through Sept. 26 when, by the time I picked C up from daycare at 11:30 a.m., my heart was pounding, I was alternating between sweating and shivering and I was, in a word, petrified.  The conversation in my head went something like this: “What was I thinking being calm? This is crazy! Our future rides on a decision  that was made by bunch of people only one of whom we had a conversation with (that lasted 20 minutes) – ARRRGHHH!” (all this while picturing myself running around in circles waving my hands in the air).

What could I do though? Nothing.  So I packed up C and drove out to FSI and met up with B’s parents (who are, thankfully, more punctual than I, so prime seats were reserved when we arrived).

Keeping C busy in a hot room with lots of people and nothing to play with did, as I had feared, prove to be the most complicated part of the day, but luckily (as I had also predicted) her grandparents and the iPad came to the rescue.

Once the ceremony started, things moved quickly. Really quickly.  I was going to keep a running list of where folks that we have befriended were going, but, frankly, once B’s name was called (and all I could think was “OMS…We’re going to Kinshasa?!”) I didn’t hear a thing and I had no idea where anyone after that ended up.

B was called about 1/3 of the way in.  One of our top posts – Dakar, Sengal – had already been called and I was, at turns, ignoring the posts we had put low (because the person leading the ceremony had already told the crowd that no one (!) received a low bid), and paying attention to the posts we had put either medium (most of the posts) or high (about 6 posts).

When the DRC flag went up I didn’t recognize it (I had memorized the Cameroon and Gabon flags thinking, based on our conversation (you know, the 20 minute one…) with B’s CDO (Career Development Officer) that those were our two most likely posts), but when the presenter said “Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo” my ears did perk up a little because we had, after all, put this post high.  It was a Francophone Africa post which also fit in our “hardship” request (more about why on another day) and it was a consular rotation (ie: working on the visa line) which was another request because it is something all FSO’s have to do in one of their first two tours.

And then I heard it: B’s name.

I jumped up and took a picture (I’m notorious for blurry iPhone pics…sorry) and then sat back down, a bit stunned.  B was standing with the guy handing out the flags waving his little blue and red flag and looking a little dazed himself.

B’s parents and sister were looking at me stunned as well.  Nothing like the bright reality of your oldest child (or brother) moving to West Africa (home of war torn strife and ebola) to make you look stunned.

I think we all actually recovered pretty well, and hour-by-hour, day-by-day, we have been getting more and more excited.

I’ll also admit, however, that on Friday we needed a little of this:

ahbeer

and this:

DSCN0346

to make us feel 100% American (or 98% American in my case since I reserve the right to feel 1% Canadian and 1% British as a tip to my birth and growing up…) in anticipation of maybe not seeing so much of these things in Africa.

So now we’re on to French training, “ConGen” (that’s consular training), CrashBang (exactly what it sounds like – driving fast cars and shooting guns and what B is CLEARLY looking forward to most) and the logistics of moving a B, a C, a D and a big brown dog, to Kinshasa, DR Congo in July 2015. Onward to the adventure we go!

C at FSI - happy to be going where Curious George came from!

C at FSI – happy to be going where Curious George came from!

The Final Countdown…or Party ’till the Diplomats come home

In 72 hours we’ll know.

Sometime after 3:30 p.m. on Friday a flag will appear on a wall at FSI.  B’s name will be called, and we’ll know.

We’ll know where we are going. We’ll know what we (or at least B) will be doing when we arrive.  We’ll know when we are going. And we’ll know what the training schedule will look like between now and then.

I’m feeling surprisingly zen about the whole thing.  It’s out of my hands – the decision has, in fact, already been made and, somewhere out there, some State Department employee is putting together a package containing details about the post, the position, the training (language and otherwise) and many other interesting tidbits about our future.

Miller feeling zen...

Miller feeling zen…

There are definitely places I would prefer to go, and there are places I would prefer not to go, but looking at the bid list (yet again) in a futile attempt to remember which flag has the green star in the middle and which has the gold star (with the same three colors on the rest of the flag) it occurs to me that I’m ok with whatever the flag looks like when they call B’s name.  Frankly, right now I’m more worried about keeping C occupied in a room full of hyped up people for an hour or more (can you say iPad…and grandparents…) than I am about what the fates hold for us.

In the meantime, with two weeks (or less) of A-100 left, the socializing has swung into high gear.  There was a happy hour tonight, there is a Nat’s game tomorrow night, poker on Thursday, ice cream and cake after Flag Day, then drinking into the wee hours after the ice cream and cake. We’ve been to brunches, dinners, pizza parties and Oktoberfest, and it has all been a blast. Someone actually had to start a Google Doc to keep track of all the extra curricular goings-on.  Many of these are not “spouse” events, so I get to stay home while B gets to go and make small talk (happy days for me as I am not such a fan of the small talk).

These are the events where B is supposed to be cultivating his “corridor reputation” – which will, in about 4 years, be important.  After the first two tours, which are considered “directed” – FSO’s are given a limited list of posts to bid on and a group of Career Development Officers make the assignments to those posts – it’s a diplomatic free-for-all.  You get a list of ALL the open posts in the world and you not only bid, you also schmooze, lobby, cajole and, I’m guessing in some cases, beg, for the job and post that you want.  It is for this schmoozing that you need a good reputation.  You want people to like you and want to work with you.

So what better way to make people like you and want to work with you than getting sloshed with them for 6 weeks in a row?  I’m kidding, B hasn’t come home sloshed…much (no, really, I’m kidding…).

The social schedule is a bit overwhelming when you have a 3 year old, a dog and a birthday before 1990.  And add to the FSI social schedule the fact that I have a lot of friends in D.C. who I have been meeting out for lunch (all in the name of business development, thank you very much), and the fact that we’ve been trying to get out and enjoy the city (see trip to Roosevelt Island below) and B and I have been crashing hard at about the same time we put C down every night.  We’ll rally for the rest of the next two weeks though – we’ll all have a lot to talk about next week as things wrap up, since everyone will be able to talk about their actually post, rather than the theoretical one they are hoping for right now.

This A-100 thing has been a blast (and I’m not even really *in* it) and it’s sad to see it coming to an end, but I have a feeling we’ll be making the most out of the last 10 days.  And hopefully, when the flags are shown and the names are called, most people walk away happy and excited and ready to party for the next 6 months…of language training.

IMG_0629

IMG_0632

IMG_0628

B and Me (Cousin It?)

B and Me (Cousin It?)

Someone else’s party…

Today is Flag Day for the A-100 class before B’s.  Today those new FSO’s will find out where in the world they will be posted.  I don’t know a soul in that class (the 178th A-100), other than through a couple of their blogs, but I am nervous and excited for them just the same.  The main folks I’ve been following (and who I’m now anxiously waiting to hear their news) are here and here and here.

Flag Day is the day in every FS orientation where family and friends gather to watch the new FSO’s find out – and accept – their assignments.  Most people will be going overseas, though there are, from what I understand, usually a few DC posts.

This is a big deal.  So much about our lives (and theirs) has been up in the air since B started the application process to get into the FS, and this is where the rubber meets the road and our path, at least for the next couple of years, becomes clearer.

The 178th Flag Day starts at 3:30 p.m. today and I’ll be checking my email to see the blog updates to find out where the bloggers from that class are going.  And I’ll be thinking about what I’m going to be feeling in about 9 weeks on September 26, 2014, when I’m standing in that room with our family and friends waiting to hear B’s name called and learning where we’re going to go.

Want to see what this crazy Flag Day is really all about – check out this blog post from another FSO blogger who pulled together 71 Flag Day stories from other bloggers. I go back to this blog post a lot and read other people’s Flag Day stories.  I can’t wait to add our own story to that list…