Life in the foreign service presents many challenges, but one thing I did not consider was all the good byes you have to face. I have been at post for over a year now, and people I know well are starting to leave. Some of them only had 1-year assignments and are now leaving for their next adventure. I only knew a few people in this category, such as the Canadian journalist who I met on a Hash run last October. She and I fell into step together and even though she was a full six inches shorter than me, we ran in the exact same rhythm. We ran into each other a lot socially over the next six months. I learned how very inquisitive journalists can be and more than once I had to refer her questions to the Political Affairs Officer at the Embassy, rather than try to answer them myself. That's another important lesson I learned this year; life at an Embassy can be a political minefield. Don't answer any questions related to the Embassy with your opinion or conjecture. Be sure you have the facts and be sure those fact are allowed to be released to the public. If you are unsure about something, err on the side of caution and don't say anything. Believe me, I got to the point where when something big happened to the U.S. in the news or in Freetown, I would make a point of calling the Public Affairs Officer and asking her what things I could say about the topic. It's much safer than to be cornered by a journalist and have to think on your feet. Welcome to diplomacy. But I'm off topic.
My best friend at the Embassy, Lynn, is Sierra Leonean. She and I bonded a while back because she is a wonderful person, a true professional at her job and because by some strange concidence, her entire family lives in my home town in Minnesota! (her family left many years ago but she stayed to finish school) Her family met my family twice when she went back to the U.S. to visit. (No it is not lost on me that she has been back twice to the U.S. to visit her family and I have not been back at all in almost two years....but she has worked for the Embassy for 5 years and has a lot more vacation time than I have.) They met at my favorite restaurant and had margaritas, took photos and talked about me. Again, I'm off topic; this time I think it was mention of margaritas that did it. Anyway, Lynn was recently accepted into the PhD program at St. Could State University. She starts classes in August. With little more than two weeks notice, I have to say good bye to my closest Sierra Leonean friend. While I wish her all the best, as she has worked so hard for this opportunity, I will really miss her genuine friendship. We have plans to meet again at Christmas when I come home on R&R to Minnesota.
My other best friend, Stephanie, has decided to leave her post at UNICEF and go back to Canada. She is tired of living the nomad life and wants to settle down and be closer to her family. She and I bonded quickly (as this life makes you do) and she plans to leave a month after Lynn. Stephanie and I shared many lazy afternoons at the beach, we ran together, attended each others birthday bashes, and had the best girls night sleep over with pizza and M&M's that one could ever imagine in a third world country. I will miss her a lot.
Most of our Embassy staff is leaving in the next 8 months. Daren, who started the same day as I, will depart for language training in November with an onward assignment to Monglia. Lindsay and Sean, who were my sponsors when I arrived, are leaving for their next assignment in Canada a little earlier than planned because Lindsay will have their first baby in December, which I'm pretty sure was planned. I leave sometime next spring-probably May or June- with 30 days of Home Leave before my next assigment. No, I don't know where I'm going yet, but we did receive our Bid List last Monday and I have been researching where to go next. I will write another post on that later. Our bids are due August 28 and we find out our assignments sometime in October. Wow, I can't believe I'm over half way through my first tour!
There is one other person who deserves mention here regarding difficult good byes. Some things are just too difficult to write about so I will save that for anther time too. Suffice it to say that this life makes you appreciate every single second of the good times and makes you miss them with complete and utter clarity when they are gone. We all have but one life to live and I plan to make the most of mine. "I'm all in" as they say.
Make it good.