My husband and I woke for the final time in Tashkent last Thursday around 02:00, showered, dressed, ate the last random food in our fridge, and lugged our suitcases out to the expediter vehicle. I’d felt a moment of sadness as I walked through the empty rooms of our house, and said goodbye to each room individually. After the baggage was loaded, I stood in the front yard for a moment trying to be present. I gazed at what had been my home for just over two years, and said my goodbyes and thanks.
The night before, Wednesday, we’d had a nice early dinner in downtown Tashkent. On the way back home, we’d dropped off my beloved VW, Hildegaard, at the embassy for shipping to a storage facility in Antwerp.
As I may have mentioned previously, we don’t have a right to import a left-hand steering vehicle to Australia (only members of the military can), so the State Department will store it for us during our second tour. In fact, I already bought a four wheel drive Nissan Murano from an officer departing Canberra, and it’s awaiting our arrival. I will be driving it from the right side of the car, on the left side of the road. It won’t be my first time, but it still is going to take some getting used to!
We took some photos with Hilde for insurance and nostalgia purposes, locked her up, and gave her a big hug. Seven and a half years later, and she is still as awesome and new-looking as the first day I rolled her off the lot with 18 miles on the odometer. Godspeed, Hilde!
The walk home that last evening was probably my favorite ever, strolling with V in the gathering dusk as bats and swallows swooped overhead. Shouting kids played in the dusty streets, women in brightly colored homemade dresses slowly pushed baby strollers, and men jostled in the local shops. I was thinking about those last items on my to-do list and how little sleep I was going to get before the flight. In a way, as the Eagles said, I was already gone.
At the Tashkent airport Thursday morning, I had to laugh at a variety of stressful situations with security, airport infrastructure, lack of airport food, and our baggage, but I am proud to say I did not lose my cool and let Tashkent get my goat a final time. Although I have to say…it was close.
When those wheels left the tarmac, all I felt was thoughtful gratitude. My last observation as we flew across into Kazakhstan was noting that the Uzbekistan Airlines portrayal of the Aral Sea’s size is about 40 years out of date. Strange that I had never noticed that until seeing it for myself. Oh Uzbekistan, I guess I will miss you a bit.
When we landed in Frankfurt and deplaned in Terminal 2, I looked back over my shoulder and saw the Starbucks right at the gate where I originally boarded my first flight to Tashkent two years, one week, and about three days earlier. I’d come full circle.
I literally stopped in my tracks and stared at that cafe outside the secondary security entrance, remembering what I was thinking the last time I’d sat there. I had flown through Frankfurt once in the meantime, but it felt so odd to retrace my steps back to those United/Lufthansa codeshares in Terminal 1 and know that I wouldn’t be seeing Central Asia again anytime soon. Everything I had learned since my first trip to Tashkent came flooding back to me.
V and I reminisced about our tour, and talked about summer goals during a champagne brunch in Terminal 1 before boarding our flight to the United States. I also ate some German beef that put the meat on the Uz Airways flight to shame.
When we arrived at Dulles late on Thursday afternoon, all of our yellow-belted luggage arrived together and on time.
We took a taxi to our temporary apartment lodging in Arlington and V promptly went in pursuit of dinner and a SIM card for his phone. All I remember was unpacking my toiletries, picking up my mail (a package of new Ann Taylor dresses I had ordered a few days prior), and showering. I had intended to watch an episode of House of Cards, but once my head hit the pillow I was gone.
The next day was a Friday, and my only business day to get anything done prior to training commencing on the following Monday. It was an exhausting, jet-lagged and difficult day, but made ten times easier by just being able to communicate with people in English (and have breakfast at Starbucks!). It also fulfilled my expectations of American-style productivity and customer service.
The long-planned and eagerly-awaited day began early with a metro trip (my card was in my American wallet, right where I left it, and still had money on it!) and visit to a DC rheumatologist who was shocked that I had been off my arthritis medication for 25 months. My left foot, grotesquely swollen and discolored, was x-rayed and closely examined. The doctor ordered a same-day MRI to see if the infection had spread to the bone.
The good news was that x-rays of my hips, hands, and right foot revealed little arthritis-related damage, however, the doctor was clear that if the infection in my toe had spread to the bone I could be facing a partial amputation of my left foot. I was so happy to be under the care of a rheumatologist again, I almost had to remind myself to pay attention to the bad news.
With my antibiotics and insurance pre-authorization in hand, I first zoomed to the State Department for a pre-set appointment to renew my employee badge which expired while I was overseas. I was proud of myself for being 30 minutes early for my MRI afterwards, but the good vibes dissipated when I found out that I had been sent by the rheumatologist’s assistant to an office that didn’t have me on their schedule.
Confusion ensued, some nice ladies made lots of phone calls, and almost 2 hours later I ended up at George Washington University hospital instead. I made it 22 hours in the U.S. before ending up at the hospital, I noted to myself. But the doctor had been pretty clear that she wanted the MRI forthwith.
After about five hours and another miscommunication, this time about whether or not my insurance had in fact authorized the requested procedure, I used some of my diplomatic skills and the MRI of my left foot was finally done. I’d held completely still in the tube, willing myself not to move so I wouldn’t have to repeat it.
Grouchy and jet-lagged, V and I then stumbled out to dinner at a nearby Chipotle (O Chipotle, how I have missed thee!), and then home via metro. Actually, I was the only one stumbling, as my hot, swollen, infected foot and the numbness down my left leg made every block feel like five. With the first dose of antibiotics I thought, Please let this work.
On the weekend we had dinner at the home of our dear friends K & G (who also graciously loaned us their second car for the next few weeks), ran some errands and did some shopping, and generally tried to prepare for this week in which I began PG 140, otherwise known as Political and Economic Tradecraft.
Sitting with K, sipping on chilled white wine in her backyard, I tried to reconcile the familiarity of my surroundings with the time that had elapsed and the strangeness I felt in my own skin. It’s a surreal thing, to go abroad for a time and then to come home, and sometimes the latter is more surreal than the former. I’m afraid I can’t put it any more profoundly than that just yet.
My overwhelming feeling right now is one of gratitude and hope. I am so much looking forward to regaining my health here in the U.S. so that I can move forward professionally and also in my personal life. It has been a long hard haul through this medical hardship posting. Although I chose it with a clear mind, and the ramifications are ultimately on me, I’m also so tired. Tired of limping, tired of eighteen months unable to wear closed-toes shoes, tired of being on an exercise restriction, of the infections, the spasms, the nerve pain.
I feel like things are already beginning to look up again, after just one week back in the good old U.S. of A.