It makes me sad to write this post, because it means that later today we leave Australia. We arrived on a cold winter day two years and four days ago, full of anticipation and excitement and hope for a terrific tour. And then all of the years and months and weeks and days and hours dwindled down as we worked and traveled and struggled and celebrated and laughed and worked and worked some more, until they ran out. And yesterday as I walked out of the embassy for the last time with nothing but my purse and some souvenirs, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with how lucky I have been to serve here.
During my last four days at the embassy, I was lucky enough to have my successor arrive early to transition with me. It’s so rare in the Department to have any overlap with your predecessor (which seems ridiculous) that we both really tried to make the most of it. We had plenty of time to talk through the portfolio, and I had the opportunity to introduce him around the embassy as well as to many of my Australian contacts.
When I wasn’t with him, I was rushing around getting signatures on my checkout sheet, selling things, giving things away, and connecting the dots on outstanding issues.
On our last day at the embassy, I worked through a to-do list that seemed it would never end. Take sold items out of car and bring to new owners. Final cleanup of inbox. Hand over car keys. Finish transition notes. Turn in BlackBerry. Mail self two flat rate boxes. Send goodbye email. Turn in badge. As I tried not to panic or get eaten alive by minutia, I saw small reminders of what mattered – what I would remember once none of the small details mattered. A friendly smile. An expression of gratitude for a job well done. Two screeching parrots coasting overhead as I walked across the grounds to the chancery. An unexpected gift. A fairy wren on the ledge as I struggled to carry too much heavy stuff onto the compound.
I got everything done a couple hours ahead of schedule, and enjoyed those two hours making the goodbye rounds around the compound, shaking hands, expressing gratitude, and introducing my successor who walked with me the whole time. Then I turned off the computer and lights in my office, cracked a bottle of champagne with my political colleagues, and then walked down those stairs for the last time. “Жално,” V observed, smiling as he caught sight of me. (‘Sad’ in Macedonian.)
V had already sold his car the preceding Friday, so we took an Uber home from the embassy. As we pulled into our neighborhood and I saw the pine ridge rising high ahead, I realized this was the last time we would arrive home. On the median, flocks of corellas and sulphur-crested cockatoos foraged, and I saw one cockie rip a large clump of grass right out of the ground with characteristic gusto.
We had about 90 minutes to collect ourselves, rest, and assemble items from our fridge, pantry, and wine cabinet for our kind and generous Australian next-door neighbors, and then we went over to eat dinner with them. Conversation and laughter with two of the people who have been the absolute nicest to us here alongside fish pie, steamed vegetables, and apple berry crumble with lemon custard warmed my soul. So much better than take-away in a packed-out house our last night, as we were too tired to go out ourselves.
When I went to sleep, I slept like a rock. And this morning when I awoke – at the same time I would normally wake up for work – the first thing I heard was the dinosaur-like call of the yellow-tailed black cockatoo nearby, soaring over the forest.
There is no question that the work here was busy (and sometimes frantic) and challenging in different ways. And there is no question that between illnesses, V’s period of unemployment, and the distance from family, life here also threw us some curveballs.
But as the last two years of my posts have chronicled, it has also been tremendous, interesting, and full of travel and fun opportunities in Australia that many people will never get. We were truly happy here and our hearts were at ease. And although we are sad to leave our home and life here, it feels sufficiently dismantled to make leaving feel both imminent and natural. My work here is done – I’ve earned a rest during the next month in the States from the endless visitors, demarches, and issues.
Australia, we love you. And we will be back.