Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sometimes Heartache

There are a lot of good things about this foreign service career; you get to travel the world, you get to meet interesting people, you get to help people in small ways that can make a big difference.  But today I ran smack into a really stark downside to this career and no matter what kind of spin you put on it, it sucks.  Sometimes you really miss your family.  Sometimes you miss them so much, your insides hurt and your head aches and your heart breaks.  There are times you cannot see your family when you want to.  This is especially difficult when big life changes happen to the people you love and you cannot be there to help them or share what they are going through.  It's definitely a huge sacrifice to serve your country while being inhibited from serving your family.  It's a choice I always knew was there, but I pushed it away and tried not to think about it.

My Dad got sick about 4 months ago.  My Dad has been healthy his entire life.  He worked several jobs when I was young to make ends meet, volunteered for over 25 years on the Rescue Squad, built all our Christmas presents out of oak and took care of my Mom and the rest of us, including the grandkids, whenever a car broke down or someone needed help moving or lifting or hauling.  He drove cross country from Minnesota to Arizona every year for 10 years so he and my Mom could spend the winter months away from the snow and enjoy the sunshine.  My Dad was indestructible until he got sick.  Now, we talk on the phone every night so I can see how he's doing and what he's eating and hear his voice.  But it's not the same as being there.  I am so glad for the closeness of our calls because it's giving us a chance to share time with each other.  I know calling is the best option we can arrange for the moment, but I can't wait to get there and see him and my Mom in person.

And then there is my daughter, Angela, who is having her first baby in about 7 weeks.  My first grandchild is about to be born and I have not yet had the chance to see my beautiful daughter pregnant.  Yes, we skype and yes I get to see her happy glow, but oh how I wish I could give her a hug and pat her growing belly and share the special joy that binds a mother and daughter together during this milestone of life.  We have had some lovely talks about pregnancy and birthing and parenting and we have even had some great moments remembering her childhood.  But I still can't wait to get there and see her in person.

I'm planning a visit home soon because life is filled with priorities and being overseas reminds you what is important in life, and the people you love are at the top of the list.  Price of a plane ticket home?  About $1100.  Being with family?  Priceless.  Pick up the phone and call someone you love, or better yet, if they are close by--give them a hug.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Africa.....Round Three

Well, folks, we have moved again.  When I joined the foreign service five years ago, I never thought I would have served in four foreign countries in those five years. My first assignment (2008-2010) was  Freetown, Sierra Leone.  My first hardship post and probably the most poverty stricken country of all, it created my best memories and my longest lasting friendships.  I always say if I survived Freetown, I can survive anywhere.  Next stop was five months in Washington, DC, which, after two years in Africa, felt like a foreign country.  Language training was challenging and unorganized, but I muddled through.  Let's just say that taking the oral text on the last day of class was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do besides giving birth,  Next time I will take all 5 months of the course instead of joining late due to "needs of the service."  Not having language skills at your future post hurts you for the duration of your assignment.  Note to new readers:  If your position is LD (Language Designated) TAKE the full language training.  You will never regret it.  After DC, I spent a year in Berlin.  What a cold year that was.  I didn't write much because I was very busy at work and very busy on the weekends visiting Lee, who lived 7 hours away.  In summer 2011, I was invited to work for Ambassador Rowe in Maputo, Mozambique.  It was thrilling to be back in Africa again--back to the warmth of the people and the weather.  We made so many good friends there.  I still cannot believe we were only there 18 months.  But during that time, we lived our lives to the absolute fullest.  

Insert interesting paragraph here:  One of the great benefits of foreign service life is sharing your overseas experiences with family and friends.  We invite people to come and visit us and a LOT of them actually come!  People living in the United States tend to be fairly sheltered when it comes to traveling.  I know I was NOT a geography guru before I joined the foreign service.  I want people to experience other corners of this vast world--to see new things and to have empathy for other cultures. How can you really learn those ideals and values if you don't actually spend time in country?  CNN can only go so far.  I really believe if we understand each country more, then we would have a better chance to create peace and harmony.  In Mozambique, we had our dear friends Cathy and Ro and Jim visit us for nearly two weeks.  We had my niece Lynn, visit for three weeks, and we had my niece Amy and her husband Chris visit for over a week.  But the absolute outstanding visit of all was when we invited my daughter and Lee's daughter to visit over Easter vacation and somehow we ended up hosting 6 guests all at once! Then, after taking those 6 guests to three foreign countries in five days, we topped off their visit by GETTING MARRIED!  We not only showed them the unique culture of South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique, but we shared the wedding customs of Maputo by having our very own wedding on the beach.  The photos were stunning, the kids had a great time and I like to think we sent 6 mini-Ambassadors back to the U.S. to tell their family and friends what Africa is really like.

Which brings me to my current posting:  U.S. Embassy Banjul, The Gambia; my third African post and also my third hardship post.  Lee and I have been here a month now, and have formed a few impressions and had a few interesting exchanges with this little, tiny country that is almost totally enclosed within the country of Senegal on the west coast of Africa.  Antidotes to follow in my next blog, as this one seems to have grown to a length not originally intended by the author.  

Keep living life to the fullest, challenge yourself to learn new things, smile at strangers and look forward to my next blog involving seashells and cow manure.