Okay, so a few days later, I've been able to catch my breath a bit and can share some more details about our recent Flag Day.
First - what's the big deal, right? The big deal is that since mid-2009 I've been focused on this very day as the shining horizon. I've understood and have been excited about the prospect of how - for lack of a better term - fate would have such an incredible role in my life, Tim's life, my family's life, and the Tabbies' life. True, it is "just" our first posting; just two years and there will be many more thereafter. But the first post sets the tone for our life (and even if I'm the employee - it's OUR life in this deal) in the Foreign Service. Will we love it? Will we be scared off? Will I cut it?
(Okay, enough of that, here's the fun bit and I hope that may help stoke the fires of those of you whose embers for the FS life are just warming up.)
It's a crisp and sunny Tuesday afternoon and our families are assembled and waiting for us in a large-ish conference hall at FSI. Some have flown across the country for this day (mine), and many have rug-rats in tow waiting to hear about what the next few years of their life might bring. Our collective bid lists included Fiji and Kathmandu; Rome and Vienna; Bujumbura and Miami; Tajikistan and Yemen. My classmates and I take our seats at the front of the room facing a large screen welcoming us to Flag Day and displaying colored flags from around the world. I sit next to another OMS classmate who is suddenly noticing and worried about a spot on her sweater. We decide that her ID badge can hang to just the right place to cover it. Then they tell us that we're getting started and to take our ID badges off, they look bad in the pictures. Okay, so maybe we can kinda' tuck the bottom of her sweater under to hide the spot...
and before the thought is finished, they've announced the first posting already. It is Vienna and it's going to.... not me. My friend and I snap to attention; this is really happening. Who cares about the stain. Our classmate jumps to her feet and accepts the red and white flag with a huge smile of relief.
I'm okay; Vienna would have been great - but very expensive, my classmate will love it there. The announcer continues to work down the list awarding postings to classmate after classmate as we cheer, remembering that Mumbai was so-and-so's first choice, or that Port au Prince will be close to so-and-so's wife posted in Santo Domingo. My top choices were Mexico City, Bujumbura, Bucharest and Bogota. Mexico City goes to a classmate who is a native Spanish speaker - drat! But it makes sense, she has the language skills needed for that position - I should have known. Then the heartbreak: Bujumbura goes to another classmate. I'm not sure why I was so intent on that destination, maybe it was The Great Toby's prediction taken to heart? (More on that later.) Tim speaks French; I speak a little. It would have been - I dunno' - exotic and so very, very Foreign. Anyway, it's gone and the flags are continuing to be picked off one by one.
I'm honestly excited and happy for my classmates as they get their top picks: Lima, Shenyang, Jakarta. But what about me? There are now only two postings left: Bucharest and Bogota and I'm the only one from my specialty left. In fact, there are only three of us in the room whose names haven't yet been called. I look at the little flag holder in front of the announcer and see it: Broad yellow stripe, blue, red... I'm going to Colombia. I know it before they said it.
And then it is official: Bogota, Colombia. I hear my name, stand up to take my little flag, do the "grip and grin" with our class mentor and try to keep my focus to walk as directed to my Career Development Officer (CDO) standing to the side with a shiny blue folder with my name on it.
My classmates are all congratulating each other, waving our flags, posing for pictures and greeting our families. It is pretty awesome, I must say. Minutes later, my CDO comes up to me and says that the next morning at 0800 I need to be in the Spanish Department for an evaluation of my language skills - don't worry, it'll be short - and then they'd get me enrolled in whichever level classes I needed. My posting requires a 2/2 (on a 0-5 scale of speaking/reading) skill level, so I'll need some brushing up before packing up and heading south. I find a second to call Tim and tell him the news and he seems excited to hear it.
For the next day or so, I felt somewhat in shock still, letting it sink in that the little "You Are Here" light on my map was going to move to South America. I've never been there - it'll be completely new. A city at 8600 feet with "fall-like weather" just about year 'round. In the coming weeks and months I'll be learning more and more about my job, our new country, our new city, our new language.
That's it for now. Tomorrow I need to have a talk with The Great Toby. We'll see what he has to say for himself and for his predictions. Until then...