As the month comes to a close, I can say that it has probably been the most bewildering and discouraging month I’ve had here yet. Between increasing work demands, family concerns, and illness, I am being tested, over and over again to the point where it almost seems comical, all while having less reserves than usual.
Earlier this month, we lost two of our four consular officers to the summer transition season, including our section chief. When my boss (literally) ran out the door for the airport, it occurred to me that everyone who was here when I arrived has now gone. As a first tour, untenured officer, I am now the “old hand”, although in larger posts there are dozens of line officers and the unit chiefs and section chiefs might be FS-01s or even Senior Foreign Service.
The two of us who remain have stepped up to cover a variety of tasks that far exceed our training and pay grade, not to mention an eight or even ten hour day, all while spending hours per day on the visa line – which at best is wearing, and at worst can feel like a depressing and prolonged daily physical confrontation in your third language with national security decisions in the balance. I have been working late almost every night, running the section, keeping the blank visa foils and money safe, trying to manage a complicated case load while also being the control for a large, high-visibility cross-cutting Mission initiative. In the meantime, by the end of the month we fortunately had a new vice consul to help settle in, but the arrival of a permanent or even temporary chief is not yet on the horizon.
I also have had a rough month physically. I’m going into month six of not being able to put a shoe on my left foot. My joints are swollen and warm to the point where basic mobility is a daily challenge. Arthritis seems to be settling in everywhere that it wasn’t bad before – hips, knees, elbows, ankles. I injured my wrist trying to make sure our safe was securely closed. I have gotten sick repeatedly this month – food poisoning, Tashkent Tummy from God knows what, fever and chills that come and go unexpectedly.
Several weeks ago, one of my dearest friends lost his wife unexpectedly, and was left to care for their toddler and a days-old infant on his own. The bleakness and unfairness of it hit me pretty hard. I sat and looked at the years of Christmas cards they’d sent, their faces gleaming, and couldn’t come to any conclusion whatsoever. Especially given the caliber of person he is and the quality of friend he has been to me over the years, it hurts to be so far away. If I had been in the U.S. there’s no question that I would have flown to Seattle. Here I have to plan even a day off well in advance.
This month has provided more reminders than usual about the importance of resiliency and self-care. I think it’s something that the friends and family of those serving abroad aren’t always cognizant of – that we’re out here, serving in hardship conditions, far away from the comforts and familiarity of home. Our lives are not just nonstop balls and luxury. We don’t roll around on marble in piles of money. We tend to be viewed through the lens of “the ones who left,” and can sometimes become the focal point for dissatisfaction about a variety of things that have little to do with us. Yes, we go willingly, but sending a message of support or asking about our daily lives means so much when we are thousands of miles away. The outpouring of support that I get from my parents and close friends is essential to my happiness and ability to function here.
Too often it’s only the people at a post who truly relate to what you’re doing there, and taking the time to enhance those friendships and build that community is so important. So I made an effort this week to attend two social events even though I was exhausted and wanted to sleep. I also went for a pedicure, trying not to look at my discolored, disfigured toe. I got my nails done, and sat quietly without saying a word, trying not to flinch every time she squeezed a painful joint or turned my hand at an angle it didn’t want to go. Afterwards, I felt a little more like me.
I also ask for help when I need it. After picking myself up off the bathroom floor for the third time this morning, I told my husband I was hungry. Then this arrived:
My husband and I have been working in the yard, planting flowers, making food for our colleagues, finding random neighborhood eateries and visiting them for the first time. Trying to create the life we want as strangers in a strange land is how we stay sane, how we support each other and make home wherever the heart is.
One of the best ways I have found to stay resilient is to keep moving forward and to keep looking ahead. In the next months, my mom will visit Uzbekistan and we will travel on to Hungary and Russia. I will also travel to India for work in the autumn, celebrate my birthday, and my husband and I are also planning weekends in Kazakhstan and maybe Dubai. And of course, next year there’s another R&R to look forward to, followed by Home Leave to California and ultimately… Australia.
For now, tomorrow’s another day.