It’s been two weeks since we returned from our trip to Samarkand. I am currently working on a half-baked theory that the life of a diplomat is especially suited to extroverts, although according to what I’ve heard and seen, many of us in the State Department (myself included) are in fact introverts.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what an introvert actually is – some people categorize introverts as shy, socially awkward, or bookworms. That may be true in some cases. However, the introversion-extroversion scale is more about where one receives their energy.
Whenever I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, my type always comes out slightly on the extroverted side. That doesn’t surprise me, because I do thrive in most social situations. But I know I’m an introvert at heart because after prolonged or intense periods of interaction with other people, no matter how much I love it, I don’t feel recharged: I collapse with exhaustion. On some days when I don’t have to interact with anyone, I simply don’t, reading or watching films under my blankets most of the day, seeking to recoup that lost energy and recharge my mental batteries.
I would like to talk in the future a lot more in depth about introversion and my personal Myers-Briggs personality type, but suffice it to say for now that over the last week especially, my inner introvert and extrovert have been trying to help each other strike a balance.
On Thursday, September 24, Uzbekistan celebrated the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), and we were fortunate to have the day off. We were also fortunate to be invited to an amazing lamb lunch at the home of our colleagues and friends.
Later that evening, my husband and I went to the Tashkent State Conservatory of Music to hear Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No2 and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No4. It was a beautiful, warm moonlit evening where the music washed easily over me. Watching the Uzbek National Symphony Orchestra performers play their instruments, I was in total awe of their hands and their level of talent in executing the complex pieces.
I have never attended so many musical and theatrical events in such a short period of time as I have in Tashkent, with the possible exception of my time in Sydney, and I owe the Post Language Program (PLP) a debt of gratitude for organizing those events and making it so easy for me to go. Amazingly, the tickets are usually less than ten dollars each too, and the level of the performers so high, both of which make going even after a busy work day a no-brainer.
The next morning, last Friday, our staff had the opportunity to meet with consular colleagues from another diplomatic mission here in Uzbekistan under the auspices of a consular leadership activity, and learn about Schengen visa procedures. Our section hosted a breakfast and a tour of our consular operations for them, and it was a fascinating exchange of information. It’s no surprise that the laws and procedures of different countries can vary so much, but I guess it’s easy for a consular officer to nerd out on all the details of how the soup is made.
Then after a very restful weekend one week ago, this past week definitely took hectic to another level. It was for me personally the busiest week yet since I’ve been here.
In addition to my regular visa interviewing and adjudications which take most of every workday, our section had also been preparing a “town hall” event at a local hotel for Monday evening. Among the topics usually discussed at such events are absentee ballot voting, emergency preparedness, and other things that Americans abroad are concerned about. We’d invited all of the American citizens living in Uzbekistan, and our esteemed ambassador planned to speak at length. My boss had asked me a couple of weeks prior to prepare resources and talking points about emergency preparedness, and I had diligently organized a ten minute presentation which I was hoping would be helpful to those in attendance.
Since Monday evening was also my second wedding anniversary with my husband, we were planning to go out to a quiet dinner following the town hall.
I got my first inkling that the week was not going to go as expected when we rolled up to the embassy gates on Monday morning for work.
As some may already know or have seen in the news, the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent was the target of an attack on Monday, September 28. An unidentified person threw a couple of Molotov cocktails inside the perimeter of the embassy grounds, one of which exploded and caused a small fire. No one was injured, and the investigation is ongoing.
Of course, at the town hall the security incident that had happened only hours before was a topic of intense interest. It was surreal to stand there and give consular reminders to people about the importance of keeping your go-bag up to date and making an evacuation communication plan with your family on the same day that the embassy had just been on a brief, temporary lockdown.
After the town hall, which everyone seemed to be very pleased with, my husband and I did get a chance to go out to dinner. We were planning on Chinese, but when we arrived at the place, the pounding music could be heard 25 yards away, and we opted for a quieter option nearby instead.
On Tuesday after work, a large gathering of consular officers from most of the diplomatic missions here took place at a beautiful residence with a sprawling, green yard filled with trees, sparkling tea lights and one small cat. As I sipped my wine and dined on delicious food I wasn’t responsible for preparing, I felt giddy with good fortune and smart company. Much later that evening driving home, I somehow managed to get myself so lost on narrow dirt roads, filled with potholes, that after 20 minutes of seeing nothing I recognized I had to laugh out loud. Finally I emerged near a tree, and lo and behold our house was across the street. Shaking my head, I made a mental note to explore the undeveloped neighborhoods around my place on foot and during the daylight.
The following day, I had the privilege of reprising the delivery of my emergency preparedness presentation at the request of our ambassador, for the entire embassy community at an internal town hall. Since I didn’t find out about it until late the night before, Wednesday morning I came to work very early to redraft my remarks for this different audience, and get them translated. It’s a good thing I did, too, because we had many more applicants than I expected arrive for visa interviews and by the time we were all finished, I had only about an hour left before the embassy town hall was to begin!
Thursday was a national holiday in honor of teachers, and so again the embassy was closed and we all had a day off. I am happy to report that I stayed in my pajamas all day!
Friday (yesterday) when I came to work I learned that we were to be short-staffed for the day, and it was another 5.5 hour marathon of visa interviews which made me miss lunch and also be late to one of the only regular meetings I have outside our insulated little section. By the end of the work day, I was hungry, dehydrated, and starting to sneeze. I had a pounding headache, and my contact lenses were making my eyeballs feel punched.
Despite all of this, my husband and I still kept our plans for that evening and saw a play at the Russian Drama Theatre. As I sat alternately laughing and speculating about what was being said through the Russian-language performance, I felt a cold creeping up on me. Literally in the couple of hours that I sat there I went from feeling completely normal to achy, scratchy throat and congested. I just got over my first cold here three weeks ago, and it looks like here we go again.
Afterwards we celebrated the weekend at last with a late-night outdoor dinner that was some of the best food we’ve had here yet.
I have to summarize all of this by saying I love my job, no matter how much it requires me to step outside my comfort zone or respond to challenges at short notice. That is the life of a diplomat, extrovert or introvert, and as much as it sometimes makes me cringe I couldn’t live without the stress. I am so fortunate to have a chance to do this work, and to be surrounded by people who give me a chance to work both behind the scenes and occasionally on the stage. I cannot even estimate how many people I’ve talked to this week. A few hundred?
I think this introvert is going to go curl up and watch a film.