Sunday, June 27, 2010

Leaving Sierra Leone

I know it's been a very long time (or as my Dad would say, "A helluva long time"), since I updated my blog. Several of you have even personally written me, asking for an update so here we go. If I get too long on this one, I will supplement it with Part 2.

First of all, Africa changes you. No doubt about it, my memories from Sierra Leone are strong and searing, and I am having some trouble adjusting to life in the developed world again. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First a few facts, since I have not written for several months, and many of you might wonder what has been happening in the interim.

In March, our temporary Ambassador left and the other OMS had already left, so that left the running of the Executive Office to the DCM and myself. We had already been without a Political Officer for many months, so the Embassy staff was getting thinner every day. I felt like an old-timer, as the only Americans who had been there longer than me were the Public Affairs chief and the Information Management Chief. Everyone else was new or had left the Embassy. That left a lot of work to just a few people. I worked overtime from January until the day I left. I actually worked six hours of overtime on Saturday and left on Sunday. I never got another chance to get out of Freetown, which I desperately wanted to do. Seeing only the capital city is not the best view of a country.

I took a trip to Dakar, Senegal in late March for a two day training seminar on our new Employee Performance software. I had to give a presentation for the whole class and it was very well received, which was rewarding. Tagged on to the end of that trip was a 5-day trip to England. (More on the special purpose of that trip a little later in this Blog...if I remember). I had to fight like crazy to get one day off (it was Easter break so we had two paid days off and the DCM did not want to give me the one day off to bridge the gap), but finally he blessed my leave. I think he realized how much effort I had given to the Embassy over the past months and the training was very important to the Embassy. In this OMS position, it's very clear that training is a complete luxury; especially at hardship posts and small posts and African posts--all of which applied to my particular situation. No hardship post can spare a person and no hardship post can afford to pay for training. Well, if you are in a different division, with different funding, then they throw money at you to attend training all over the world. I don't understand how the local Sierra Leone staff almost ALL attended training and I could not get any training at all. I guess that's just the way the system works.

After Easter, I focused completely on packing out my apartment and getting my office ready to hand over. My replacement was not going to arrive until after I had departed, so basically that meant I had to create new files for her, create a book of duties, clean out all my old stuff, pack my office stuff to be mailed to Germany, and fit all that in between packing boxes at home and working a full time job. It was a very busy and stressful time.

The best part of that time was having friends host going away parties for me. I had a "Pink Lady" dinner party with my running group (in which everyone had to wear pink clothes), a Pink Lady farewell cake at the last Hash run (the cake was almost the size of a banquet table and everyone loved it.....although the frosting has a very funny story attached. The frosting was bright pink and I had two giant pieces of the cake over the span of a couple of days. Apparently the food coloring in the frosting was quite strong and, well, believe it or not you can produce pink poop!) The Embassy staff was too busy and too preoccupied to plan a party for me, so I arranged my own. By the time I invited everyone, it was the week before I left and everything had been packed out of my apartment. Being so adaptable, having no dishes or plates or food, didn't stop me. I catered some of the food, used up the supplies in the pantry, gave away all my open alcohol and even was creative enough to use a pretty shower curtain as a tablecloth, since everything in the apartment was white and bare and the party needed some color. Everyone had a great time. I invited just the people who really meant a lot to me--including the local staff at the Embassy. I took lots of pictures, gave a speech and had others say a few words about me. It was very touching and I was not the only one who shed a few tears.

I left Freetown on a Sunday night at midnight. Well, the flight was supposed to take off at midnight, which meant I had to be picked up at my apartment at 7pm. Unfortunately, the computers and the air conditioning at Freetown airport both chose to go haywire at the same time, so after arriving at the airport at 8pm, I had to wait in sweltering heat until 2am for my flight to take off. It was not the ending I was hoping for, but it did give me a chance to call those people I never got a chance to say goodbye to in person. All part of the adventure.

I took a flight from Freetown to Denver to attend Angela's PhD graduation ceremony at UC Boulder. It was culture shock from the first minute I landed in the United States. I could not get over little things like being able to drink water from the tap and all the streets looking so clean and all the people appearing rich and well dressed. I could not get over all the shiny cars, the affluent society, the lack of diversity. It was wonderful to see my family (and my special significant other), and they helped shelter me from too much civilization. Good thing I was not driving a car at this time; in fact, I have not driven a car since I left Freetown. Wow.

I am now in Washington D.C. for German language training. Adapting to life as a student and life outside of Sierra Leone is a whole new topic, and worthy of a new blog, which hopefully will be forthcoming a lot sooner than the last one. More on that in the days to come.

For those of you who stuck with this long blog until the end, the trip in April to England at Easter was to meet the family of my very special new man, Lee. He has not specifically been mentioned in this blog before, but I want to say that we are very happy together and despite the calamity of distance and long separations, we are forming a strong bond. You will be reading about him in blogs to come, I'm pretty sure of that.

Hope everyone is well. Enjoy life, and no matter what, make the best of things. We only get one ride--make it a good one.