flag day revisited

January 29, 2010 was a huge day for us: it was Grant’s Flag Day. Flag Day is when everyone assembles in the gym at FSI to sit in rows of chairs in front of a table covered in mini flags. Bingo sheets of post names are handed out and people are encouraged to play by marking off posts as they are called. I think this is a way to distract people from potentially bad news.

Prior to Flag Day, each new officer receives a list of all the possible positions open to him or her — the infamous bid list. Everyone must then rank each post “high” “medium” or “low,” and provide rationale for some of the rankings, as well as list three overarching priorities in rank order.

Grant and I had some long conversations about his list, and quickly came to the conclusion that DC is where we wanted him to be. We weren’t really ready to have him sent to Nowhereistan, or some other similar place, and we had heard that DC posts aren’t popular with entry level officers so we figured we had a shot (I mean, really, who joins the foreign service to serve at a domestic post off the bat?)… Let’s just say we were wrong.

When Flag Day rolled around, Grant’s mom came in to town for the ceremony and she and I made our way over to FSI to see where Grant had been spending all his time and in great anticipation of learning where he would end up. He gave us a quick tour before the ceremony, which took place in the gym. Once there, Grant’s mom and I sat down together, bingo sheets and pencils in hand, and he went to sit in the front with his classmates.

As posts were called, I checked them off my mental list (and my bingo sheet). When I heard Consular, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, one of the last things I was expecting to hear was his name — but I did, and I recovered enough to take a picture of him receiving the flag. Uzbekistan wasn’t even marked with a “high” on the list he had submitted, so to say this was a surprise was an understatement. He would be going really far away. Which meant that we really needed to have some serious conversations about our future. Yikes. Honestly, I thought I held myself together pretty well at this point: I even managed to give him a smile and a thumbs up. The rest of the posts were announced while I was in a fog, with hundreds of different thoughts swirling in my mind. Well, I reasoned, we met someone in early January who is going to Tashkent and he’s not going until October, which means we have at least until late October, early November to figure things out. I can deal with that.

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Khast Imam mosque complex in Tashkent

My facade crumbled when, right after the ceremony, Grant came over to us and said, “Well the great news is I don’t leave until August!” August?! I nearly lost it completely right then, settling for sufficiently embarrassing myself by having some of the tears escape, enough so that Grant’s mom put her arm around me and said, “let’s go find a bathroom.”

The first thing we did when we got back to Oakwood was watch the Uzbekistan episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, which Grant randomly had on his computer. It was interesting to learn about this country I had hardly heard of before and although it remained very hard to imagine what life there would be like — I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t a particularly cold place. Bourdain’s first words, on the other hand, were not so comforting. They were something along the lines of: “Uzbekistan, where the U.S. Government sends people to disappear.” Hmm… is that what they were doing to Grant?

The Department’s decision to send him to far away Uzbekistan (i.e. the Nowhereistan I had feared) may not have been our first choice, but it all certainly worked out for the best. Thinking back, I still don’t like to relive that day (sorry Grant!), only because I remember how devastated I was when I learned how soon he would leave. That being said, our time in Uzbekistan ended up being a positive experience. We had to spend a year apart, which was pretty awful, but now we know we don’t want to do that again! In Tashkent, I had a fantastic job — perhaps the most perfect job possible for me — and I met some incredible people who certainly made going there worth it. Plus we got Scarlett. ‘Nuff said.

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