Today marks the one month point since our arrival in Australia. I’m grateful for so many of the advantages of being here, which are already obvious. If I’m honest though, I can’t help but notice that my settling in time has been marked by a number of inconveniences ranging from annoying, to painful, to downright comical (in the “what-else-could-go-wrong” sense). Every officer knows that the period of adjustment and settling in at a new post can be this way, even in a lucky first world posting and with lots of helpful colleagues. My time in Sydney in 2005 and 2006 was so charmed that I really wasn’t expecting to struggle so much at the beginning here. Is it bad luck? Karma from some offense committed in a prior incarnation? Being overly impatient with myself and others? No matter the genesis, I’ve tried persistently to see the glass as half full.
From two weeks of headaches trying to transfer my work email account, to complications completing my PCS voucher, to sign-on failures with various platforms and systems, a lot of things on the bureaucratic side have been… tedious. Then there’s the important stuff – struggling to get on the correct side of a very steep learning curve at work, getting comfortable driving on the left, dealing with the stress of temporarily being the only breadwinner as my husband looks for work on the local economy – I’m somewhere in the middle of all of it. Although I’m lucky to again have first world medical care, add to everything the constant pain and mobility issues resulting from my spinal cord injury and bone infection in my left foot, which have both gotten rather dramatically worse of late, I’ve been feeling less than 100 percent resilient. Suddenly problems like forgetting to put the metal garbage cans for the bathrooms into our UAB, or only having one set of towels, or waiting for my Australian bank card to come in the mail, cause me more grief than warranted. Late breaking: Just because I signed up for this life of constant change and ambiguity doesn’t mean that I love *every* minute of the upheaval.
I was reflecting on my impatience with feeling operationally… not nimble during my first few weeks at the embassy, and my boss smiled and made a comment about being a glass-half-full kind of guy. I agreed, and although I have kind of been getting my ass kicked in this transition process, I’ve tried to consciously reframe my new challenges and opportunities through that lens. After all, we’re in Australia! And no one expects you to jump off the plane and know everything, and have your whole house set up, and be across all the minutiae that setting up a life abroad requires.
We spent our first three weeks in Canberra in a hotel because our house wasn’t move-in ready. Although the hotel was excellent, we had already been living out of suitcases since late May when we packed out of Tashkent, and I was desperate to just put things away and not have to move them again within a couple days or weeks. Also, eating out gets old. And expensive. Glass half full: At least we weren’t living in the hotel with four little kids and two dogs, like some families coming to post would be! (That sounds like a gloat, but I swear it’s not. Perspective.)
We did eventually move into the house about a week and a half ago. We had already come to visit the house and see where it was, and while there encountered an eastern gray kangaroo across the street, munching on greens as he watched us warily, ears rotating like satellite dishes. Our house, literally on the edge of a forest, isn’t far from the embassy and downtown area, but it still manages to be an oasis. Our homecoming was memorable, packing up the hotel room on a Friday night and driving through the cloudy and darkening night towards our new house. Like kids at Christmas, we were looking at one room at a time, getting lost in hallways, trying to figure out light switches, shivering through the 57 degrees F indoor temperature, and elatedly plugging in the odd-looking hot water heater in the garage with fingers crossed.
It is a great house, with a fantastic backyard, front and back lawns, a big wraparound deck, and full of flowers and bushes. But given our recent strain of what I’ll call bad luck, we weren’t totally surprised that our heater broke after our first full day in the house…and then broke again our second day, three hours after a repairman came out to fix it. Glass half full: The heat distribution throughout the house is a bit haphazard, and the insulation is not up to American standards, but we’re no longer freezing, the heater is working dependably, and last week our UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) arrived with our warm clothes inside. Not to mention that some new colleagues and friends loaned us a space heater, which continues to save us in the cold southern hemisphere winter mornings.
Besides the intimidation factor of learning to drive on the left (definitely a topic for an upcoming post!), the car I bought back in April from a family departing post has already thrown me for a loop. After hours online and on the phone renewing the registration and picking out insurance, I learned I also had to take the car in for a roadworthy inspection prior to getting the registration transferred into my name, switching to diplomatic license plates, and obtaining our diplomatic drivers’ licenses. (And none of that can be done on a Saturday.)
So I took part of an afternoon off and headed out to the inspection station about a half hour south of the embassy. I will never forget the moment when I pulled up to the bays in front of the warehouse-sized garage, when suddenly smoke poured out from either side of the hood and a huge puddle of antifreeze formed nearly instantaneously underneath the car. The guy looked at me, and I said something to the effect of, I swear it wasn’t doing this a minute ago. Right! Glass half full: I postponed the inspection and used Google Maps to quickly find a mechanic within five minutes’ drive, and he fixed the split hose and had me on my way within two hours to an important medical appointment. Now I have firsthand knowledge of a reliable mechanic! When I rescheduled the roadworthy inspection, I learned I also had an oil leak, but given that most places here only stay open until 5 pm and are closed all weekend, I foresee more time off in my future.
Within days of arriving in Australia, I finished my two month course of antibiotics for the bone infection in my left foot and wouldn’t you know, my poor foot blew right back up again, as infected, inflamed, and discolored as ever. My back is also now so bad I can’t hardly bend down at all, and all the stairs in this embassy (a historic building that looks like a colonial mansion) aren’t so fun right now. Glass half full: I’ve already had x-rays and MRIs of my foot and spine, and am consulting with a rheumatologist, an infectious disease specialist, an orthopedic surgeon, and even a neurosurgeon. Although these problems have been accumulating for quite some time now, I feel like I’m finally on the way to treatment that doesn’t involve a medical evacuation and months more suffering on the horizon.
There are times in the last few weeks that I have found myself missing Tashkent. Not that there isn’t anything to miss about Tashkent, but when I examined my motivations more specifically, I realized that what I was really missing was the feeling of confidence that comes with knowing what you’re supposed to be doing at work, how, where, why, and with whom. Not to mention knowing how to fix problems both large and small yourself.
But that comfort zone wasn’t something I inherently had in Tashkent; that is something I built in Tashkent, over a period of many months with effort and resilience, just like one does in any new job. And I will do it here in Canberra, too. And every day is a part of that time that goes into such an endeavor, and eventually you realize that you’re walking through your life every day with a solid command of everything you need to know and do… nimbly!
There are lots of things to be grateful about here, and that helps the glass look three-quarters full. The good nail lady I already found, and the collection of amazing Australian birds that constantly grace our backyard. Spring is coming. And… Australian accents! Stay tuned.
Gosh, I am so sorry to hear about all your troubles! I would want to say it’s courageous of you to see things “glass half full” but I would guess that it is more out of necessity to maintain a sense of sanity than it is about being super-brave. I wonder with all your stress, if it is hindering your healing process for your infection?
Something that also struck me was how much you can rely on the generosity of other FSA families for simple things like heaters, rather than purchasing everything. If only us non-FSA folks could do that more often! I live in a city with a special FB group called “Buy Nothing [Neighborhood]” that allows us to post items for exchange. Sounds like you have something like that amongst the different embassies and consulates?
Anyhoo, wishing for you a speedy recovery, and hope you get stable on your feet, both literally and figuratively!
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We are definitely lucky in the Foreign Service community that we can borrow items from new friends and our social sponsors before our household effects shipments come in! It’s super helpful, especially when switching hemispheres and seasons.