Another long pause between writings and lots to tell. In fact, life has changed for me in more ways than I could have ever imagined when I started this blog. Let's start in chronological order order, shall we?
Oct 2010-Oct 2011
This past year in Berlin has been challenging, to say the least. Not so much because it's Berlin--I don't want to fault this beautiful city. But the job just was not for me. If you are considering applying for a EUR posting, do your homework. The culture of a large European embassy is vastly different from other places in the world; namely Africa, which was my only other experience. Ego plays a huge role in EUR and if you don't have one or don't want to cultivate one, you may find it dfifficult to fit in. The embassy community is large but mostly sheltered; there are so many things to do that people don't bond--consequently there is not much of a sense of community. The Generalist/Specialist chasm is wide and pervasive. Consider carefully what you want to get out of your posting before choosing where you want to serve. I didn't mind working very long hours but being thanked would have been appreciated. I have heard many of these same comments from other OMSs posted in EUR, so it's not just my single experience that I'm trying to convey. When I first found out I was going to Berlin, my DCM in Freetown said something like, "Oh, you are going to Europe, hmmmm." Now I know what he meant. --Enough said.
A few good lasting memories from Berlin:
*My language skills have improved dramatically. I can now hold conversations easily and comfortably. I jokingly admit that I finally got the hang of speaking German just as I'm about to leave.
*I have made a few truly wonderful friends. Sahar and I met on one of my many weekend 5-hour one-way train journeys to visit Lee. She is from Egypt, highly educated and laughs easily. We started talking when the train first rolled out of the station and didn't stop for five hours. Lee and I have met Sahar and her friends for dinner (she speaks German, English, Arabic, French, and probably another language I forgot). She offered to give me German lessons and I went once; only to find out that the other student in the class was fluent and I felt too overwhelmed to try it again. But our friendship came at a time when we both desperately needed a friend. Being in the Foreign Service affords amazing opportunities for meeting exceptional people--take those opportunites and you will never regret it.
*Lee and I toured Europe a bit--not as much as we would have liked, but enough to get a taste of Europe. We spent a weekend in Milan, Italy, two weekends in Poland, several weekends in England visiting his family, a weekend in Prague, Czech Repbulic when Lee presented at a military conference, and a week in France doing nothing but playing tennis and getting to know Lee's family.
*As for Germany itself, it's a multi-cultural place filled with all things German. However, people speak English at the Christmas markets and Berlin itself is filled with tourists. I walk to work every day--which was an experience for someone versed in driving a car. My little VW Polo sat idle in the parking garage almost the entire year. I would say my saddest memory of Germany was our trip to Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. You can never feel the hush and the sadness of a place like that unless you are standing on the actual ground where so many people suffered. All I could think of was, "Man's inhunanity to man."
On the 4th of July, I received a call from the Ambassador of Mozambique. Her staff and I had done a bit of corresponding and they wanted me serve at Embassy Maputo. The phone call from the Ambassador was welcoming and professional. She offered me the job as her OMS and after much discussion and thinking and planning with Lee, we agreed to curtail in Berllin in order to accept the new assignment. They wanted me there as quickly as possible, since the position was vacant, but Lee needed to get his details sorted out first. He had applied for redundancy from the British Army and would not be notified until Sept 1st if he was accepted. The very soonest he could be free to leave the army was middle of October. All sides agreed that it was barely acceptable and we went forward waiting for the news.
On Sept. 1st while we were on holiday in France, Lee got the call that he had been selected for redundancy--early retirement. After 33 years in the Army, he was free to leave. He was now free to join me and we would not have to be apart anymore. Long distance love is hard, but not impossible. We were both elated that we finally had the chance to be together in the same place. I jokingly say that from now on, the furthest I want to travel to him is from the living room to the kitchen!
Sept. 17, 2011
We went to Poland on a whim. We had been there before and loved it and decided to spend my birthday weekend there. On Saturday night, Lee gave me loads of little presents and the very last present was a box of Belgian chocolates. I was a bit hesitant to open them--since we had just eaten a sumptous meal--but he kept insisting. I finally opened the chocolates and tucked inside was an engagement ring! I was so surprised! I have no idea how he acted so normal all day, but he tells me now that he was going crazy inside waiting to ask me. That night we called all our family to tell them the wonderful news and I have the huge international roaming cell phone bill to prove it! We don't have any firm plans on a date or a place for the wedding yet. Too many things are happening all at once, but we will let you know.
Oct. 17, 2011
The movers just left. They have packed up most of my apartment and will be back tomorrow to finish. I had not even unpacked all the boxes from Freetown and now they are being shipped back to Africa. Lee and I are really looking forward to serving in Africa again. There is a certain flavor and earthiness about it that you cannot describe to anyone who has not been there. If you get a chance to visit, go. If you need a recommendation, ask my childhood friend Cathy who visited me in Freetown--she came for two weeks and loved it.
We will be in Maputo in early November and I will write when we get settled. For now, know that the world is a vast place that deserves exploring. There is a new opportunity around every corner, even if it's in your own backyard. Reach out to someone; get out of your comfort zone and live life to the fullest.