ConGen (PC 530): Week 4 in Review

This week I reached the two-thirds completion mark of my consular training, and I am happy to report that I am feeling well and healthy and have still not missed any sessions.

I have had relatively severe insomnia from time to time over the last several months, and twice this past week I awoke near to my necessary departure time with my alarm in my hand, turned off. Thank God for quick showering, dry shampoo, and a sense of humor.

The only thing that has seemed to matter lately is turning up. Turning up to work on time when I physically feel like crawling under the covers, turning up at my friend’s baby shower even though cherry blossom traffic has made me hideously late and I spent half the night in the ER with my husband who suffers from kidney stones, turning up for myself so I have the clarity, focus and resilience to do what I need to do within the different roles I encumber – colleague, wife, friend, sister, daughter.

Turn up, take part, live another day. And it feels pretty good! I am not saying there are never legitimate reasons to take a sick day, and in fact I think that misguided hero ethic of coming to work no matter what is a misguided and damaging part of American work culture. But I feel proud that nothing stopped me from attending these mandatory sessions, the makeups for which would have snatched the precious little free time I have remaining here. Going was better than staying home for all the good it would have done.

Early this past week we completed capstone role plays where we practiced visa adjudication. We also had our immigrant visa systems assessment and second policy exam in class, and I received a 96% for the second time in a row as well as another perfect systems assessment score, barely.

I was mildly annoyed with myself to not have received a perfect score on the policy side, but at the end of the day, we always have room for improvement. I am certainly no exception and the more I find about consular work, the more terrifying the depth and breadth of the issues becomes and the steeper the learning curve. However, I am confident and enthusiastic. A little bit at a time, I will learn everything I need and one day I will be an experienced, effective consular officer. After all, how many years have I wanted this job?!

Although I did find the non-immigrant and immigrant visa modules very illuminating, I am particularly interested in the American Citizen Services aspect of consular work. We now are focusing on nationality and citizenship, and document fraud, and strangely perhaps I have been looking forward to that, as well as death notifications, and welfare and whereabouts.

On another note, it seems all of my 178th colleagues in long-term language training passed their Arabic and Mandarin exams over the last few days and will begin ConGen next week. A hearty congratulations to that brave and determined group! Seven and a half months of language training is a month more than I had, and must have felt like forever. They were rewarded yesterday with a very sunny and warm Saturday, which I myself spent running errands.

Realizing it is the last full unplanned weekend I am here, I ventured into the bright sun and got myself a strong coffee. I hit up Costco, CVS and The Container Store, driving with the windows down and blasting Jodeci songs from the early 90s. I find that taking action and checking to-do items off my list eases inner turmoil.

Over the last several months I have been purchasing (pics to follow, I swear!) many items I will need in Uzbekistan but will have problems receiving through the diplomatic pouch. Per my understanding, the pouch does not permit glass items or liquids >16 oz. Apparently, the purchasing of most cosmetic and toiletry items on the local market is not advised. I am going to be there for two years. Allow that to sink in for a moment.

Although we will have a consumables allowance of 2,500 lbs to use during our first twelve months at post (meaning we can buy bulk items not locally available and ship them to ourselves without liquid restrictions), it is easiest initially while I am still here and have an SUV to just go and buy a 1-2 year supply of shampoo and conditioner, lotion, perfume, razor blades, toothpaste and a gazillion other various cosmetic and toiletry items. It is absolutely costing me a fortune, which is why I started so early!

And I still have food, OTC, household (like laundry and cleaners) as well as automotive to contend with. It’s a ton of money going out at the same time, but it will be a long-lasting comfort and convenience once I am overseas, provided the cargo ship carrying my effects doesn’t inadvertently sink to the bottom of the Atlantic.

I should say that I don’t like to think of myself as a huge consumer. My TV is from 1998. I still have some cassette tapes. I read paper books. I try to reduce, reuse and recycle in all of my activities.

BUT – I am not the type of woman to be without all of my beauty products. Even when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia I was ordering makeup and nail polish through this Danish catalog called Oriflame and eagerly awaiting its arrival. So I will be relieved when all my stuff gets to the other side and I can obsessively put everything in its place with a good glass of wine.

In other notable news, this week I found out what our house in Tashkent looks like from the outside, wrote a letter introducing myself to my ambassador, confirmed pick up and shipment details for my car, mailed some family items to my dad in a giant box, started the ball rolling on freezing my cell service and ordering the last remaining prescriptions I need, and received the info I need to apply for our diplomatic visas. And this in addition to working full time, and I’m probably even forgetting 12 other things I did. It was a busy week!

Last night after dinner my husband and I went out for a walk around our neighborhood. We covered about four miles in the comfortable silence that exists between two people who have known each other for years. Although I have been ready for some time to leave this place, I will miss our lives here when I am gone, and especially him until the time he is able to join me.



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Sarah W Gaer

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