Monday, July 21, 2014

T Minus Six Months

It was just Friday that our transfer schedule was approved, giving us our official last day in Juarez as January 21, 2015.  Which means that tomorrow will make exactly six months until we pack everything into the car again, Tabbies included, and make the return drive north to the mothership (FSI).  We will stop en route at a house we've rented for a month in Florida for our Congressionally-mandated twenty business days of home leave in which we're supposed to reacquaint ourselves with American life.

This opening paragraph states some basic facts upon which I feel compelled to expand. Not only because it's my nature to explain (just ask my husband), but also because it could lead people to some great misunderstandings.  Where to start?  

With the "housekeeping" basics:  The cycle of an Entry-Level Officer is such that our first two tours are directed.  We received our second posting late last year and a few months ago submitted to our Career Development Officer and Assignments Officer what we'd like as our transfer schedule.  There is a bit of horse-trading that goes on to make this schedule because it involves contacting our onward assignment (US Embassy Bucharest) and asking them when they want us to arrive.  Their decision is based on factors such as when my predecessor will leave, when a house will be available, when a physical work space will be available or whether or not there's a large event going on at that time that would make a newcomer's arrival a hassle (i.e. my friend was told not to arrive in Brazil until either well before or after the World Cup, and not during).  Keep in mind that I was asking them this information 18 months in advance, with a good chance that the people answering will not even BE in Bucharest when we get there.  They responded by giving me a date, Aug 20, 2015.  I also had to consider the start time of my language training using the FSI course calendar and work backwards from that date to make sure we have 20 business days (not to include federal holidays!) of home leave, and sufficient driving days to our home leave destination.  Being on the border, most of us drive to our home leave, whereas the rest of the world flies, naturally. (Side note: our current Consul General and his family, including multiple cats and dogs DROVE from their assignment in Honduras to home leave in the US many years back. Naturally with today's security situation this adventure would never be approved, but it certainly endeared me to him and his wife when I heard this story.)  We're told that we must leave post in the same month in which we arrived, and any deviation would require a fine-tooth-comb examination of the reasons for such an extension or curtailment.  In our case, we requested a 10-day curtailment in order to have those 20 days of home leave before language training starts on February 23rd.  Fortunately, it was approved, but that is by no means always the case.  

Okay, so now we have a fixed departure date.  Unfortunately, the transfer schedule that was returned to me wants us to arrive in Bucharest on August 16, not August 20 as post wanted, all because a short course at FSI that I proposed taking has been cancelled, meaning we have to get out of Dodge as soon as Romanian training is over.  Now I have to recontact Bucharest and horse-trade again for those extra four days.  Arriving on a Sunday, which August 16th will be, is no fun for anyone.  It means that my sponsor and an Embassy driver have to work on a Sunday to meet us, and that my first day of work will now be a Monday with a full work week ahead of me when I'm exhausted from travelling overnight with three cats.  (See why we all want to arrive on a Thursday now?)  Therefore Bucharest just might not approve the August 16th arrival and the bargaining will begin again.  

Now back to my opening paragraph:
When I state that we are now "T minus six months from departure" it should be understood that I am not excited about leaving Juarez, but I am excited about moving on to our next adventure.  

Just the other night, my husband and I were watching the show "The Bridge" which is set in El Paso/Juarez and is all about two detectives with very different personalities: one Mexican and one American, working together to solve a murder/many murders. Unfortunately the show is set in Juarez's bad ole' days and its plot capitalizes on the danger of the city, whereas today's truth is vastly different. Just so you all know - it's not like that now.  My husband rolled his eyes and teased me about exclaiming, "Look - there's that road/building/highway!  Look, it's border the crossing! Awww... the El Paso star!" in fondness as if I were seeing footage of a place long missed.  I'm really glad I'm watching this here and now where I have it all just outside the door and can still be living and enjoying this quirky neither-here-nor-there slice of our continent.  I have great fondness for our dusty, beaten-down city and I am NOT looking forward to leaving.  

The Tabbies love it here.  The heat is great for old bones and they love their garden and all the roaming room our two-story house offers.  I love our vet just over the border for these old bones and the ease in which I can buy their 30-pound boxes of cat litter. I love the fact that my husband has a great job and with a salary where he can save a bit for the minimum and unavoidable eight months of unemployment he'll face next year when we move.  I love my six minute walk to work.  I love that it takes two short flights to visit anyone in my family and the time zone difference requires adding or subtracting ONE HOUR to call them.  I love that I have been given free rein (pun intended) to ride lovely horses nearby and good friends to share this with. I love the challenges of the complexity of my work, even the stress that comes along with it.  (I don't LOVE that part, but I know I'm learning from it.) 

And I love our local coworkers.  As we're in the height of transfer season now, our despedidas (going away parties) are now for four to six people each time, instead of just one.  During these despedidas, the leaving officer generally makes a goodbye speech in front of the whole Consulate crew and invariably it ends with a, "...and more than anything, I'm so thankful for our awesome local staff who have taught me so much, been so kind, patient, welcoming, hard-working etc..."  And they're right.  I can't relish the day when we cross northbound for the last time simply due to the friendships that I've made here. We Americans will cross paths again in this giant salad-spinner that is the Foreign Service, but the local staff will stay here and continue to be themselves in their lives for wave after wave of new officers.  Pretty soon it will be, "Remember that officer so-and-so?" and maybe they will, or maybe they won't.  I'm doing my best to be one of those officers who they actually DO remember, and do so with a smile. Is that because besides always wanting to explain, I also always want to be liked? Sure. But also because it's important that I am that person people want to work with who is knowledgeable and does good work as a leader and manager - which is where all officers end up in short time. Juarez is teaching me all of that.  

In a very big nutshell, having our end date now fixed is very bittersweet.  I still have so much to learn here.  While the excitement of the new adventure is ever-so-savory, we have a good life here now and should never forget to recognize that by only looking forward to the next big thing.  

A coworker who just left Juarez wrote this post about her time here, the good and the not-so-good parts.