As PCS (permanent change of station, i.e. moving time) season is upon us, I’ve taken a moment to think back on what I miss most from our last assignment and what I think I’ll miss most from this one. Life in the Foreign Service is a life inevitably full of nostalgia, as any life that is full of drastic moves and changes can be. We are down to our last hours in Serbia and I am sure I will soon write a post about our time here, but just thinking about it is making me sad; instead, I will think about Uzbekistan right now.
Our life in Tashkent was calm and quiet, but great. I had a great job I loved (no small feat for a spouse), with good coworkers and we made some great friends. The embassy community was fantastic, and although travel was not the easiest, we did get to some great places, both within Uzbekistan (Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Fergana Valley, etc.) and Asian spots farther out (India, Thailand), though Kyrgyzstan was the only other “stan” I added to my list (Grant did make it to Kazakhstan before I arrived).
Beyond missing the things mentioned above and a good life-work balance for my FSO husband, I also have one big regret: that we didn’t get a carpet from the Khiva Silk Workshop. Their work is incredible and unique, and I’ve never been able to pick my favorite from the designs they have online — and I am very picky when it comes to my carpets! We did get two beautiful handmade suzani from the shop, and what I really like about them is that they are truly unique and I have never seen others even somewhat like them.
I don’t think there will be something from Serbia I regret not buying — we did get some interesting things (such as a gorgeous, antique trunk and a really cool wooden wine rack), but there is not a huge craft culture here like there is in Uzbekistan. But oh, there are many, many things I will miss: the weather (most of the time), the food, the green markets, and of course, the people… just to name a few. Now I need to stop myself from getting too teary and go enjoy our last few things here before we leave!
What do you regret from places you’ve left? Do you find yourself getting nostalgic before leaving one place for another?
So it finally happened: we found out where we will be living for the next two years! One of the many perks of Foreign Service life is that we are usually assigned housing from a pool of properties owned or rented by the US government. The size of one’s house depends on the availability and timing as well as the FSO’s rank and family size, and the buildings themselves have to have proper security measures, which can sometimes limit the types of housing available.
Our home in Tashkent was big for the two of us, and while it had its quirks, it really was a great place to live. We were near the embassy, there was actually a closet in one of the bedrooms, and we had a nice place to walk Scarlett. When she was a tiny puppy and didn’t venture far from us, she enjoyed a leash-free yard; however, as she got older and bolder (and friendlier!), we stuck to using a leash or a tether because she could get through holes in the fence and loved to go say hi to people.
This past October, we filled out the housing survey for Belgrade. After a lot of research and back-and-forth, we decided to prioritize living downtown, in the city center. We had heard great things about the housing in one particular suburb, which is supposedly kind of like living in 1950s America. As we have no children (human children, I should specify, since Scarlett is our dog-child), we thought it would be fun to live closer to everything, even if it meant giving up the living space that we Americans love so much. I will admit I was a little worried that were we to live downtown, our apartment would have a European-sized oven… now that would be a problem.
Needless to say, after having sent in the survey in October, we were more than ready to find out our housing, and we checked e-mail almost every day in anticipation of the email that would finally reveal everything. When it finally came, it was not what we had expected. Instead of being placed downtown, we found out we would be living in a neighborhood outside of town, near the new embassy (they are supposed to move into the new embassy before we arrive). If I said I wasn’t devastated when Grant shared the news with me, I would be lying.
The problem is that I had been picturing my life in Belgrade in a very specific, city-living way: exploring the city streets with Scarlett after a breakfast at “my” cafe, people watching from my table at the kafana (local restaurant) from which I am working with my laptop, wandering around at night to find a restaurant for dinner, etc. While none of that is impossible now, it will all be a bit more difficult, and my day-to-day life certainly won’t be the same. So I’m working on re-imagining what our life will be like.
I am getting over the whole location thing and getting more and more excited for our actual apartment. While we have not seen pictures of the actual interior, it is a modern building with all the amenities we wanted, including parking and a fenced-in yard for Scarlett! I am also really happy that we will have room for visitors (*hint* *hint) and an office for me (and Grant, of course; at this point I’m planning on doing some freelance writing when we’re there, so a space reserved for that will be nice). Plus we’re near the embassy and public transportation. It’s hard to believe how quickly our time in DC is wrapping up, and housing definitely makes everything seem so much more “real.”
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.
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.