My husband and I were at San Francisco International Airport on a warm night in late July. Bags checked, phone calls made, dinner enjoyed, black passports in hand. Time to go. I strolled up to the departure gate in a long queue of passengers for the flight to Sydney, trying to appear nonchalant. In the pit of my stomach was this dread that one of the eagle-eyed Qantas gate agents would confront me about my carry-on baggage weighing two dozen kilos above the limit. They were all the right dimensions, but if anyone lifted them, they would have been aghast.
Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) have Congressionally-mandated “home leave” between overseas diplomatic postings. We are required to take a minimum of 20 business days in the U.S. in order to reorient ourselves and keep our ties strong. We don’t actually have to spend our home leave days at our home of record (HOR); we can be anywhere in the U.S. and its territories. However, unless an FSO is independently wealthy (ha), has a vacant property to stay in, or willing family members with homes large enough to host an officer and his/her spouse, kids, pets, and stuff for weeks on end, home leave for many can end up feeling like “homeless” leave.
Thursday, May 21 was a day I intersected the sun while flying thousands of miles east. As midnight struck on the east coast of the United States, I had already set my watch six hours ahead and arrived in Frankfurt, the only time during that day that I held still for a few hours.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 20 I awoke early in my New York City hotel room. My taxi was coming at noon, and my flight would take off just before 16:00. So I set purposefully and enthusiastically about my morning: picking up my shoes from a repair shop nearby, strolling 25 minutes through midtown to get a glorious deep tissue massage, enjoying coffee and breakfast, and of course – strategically re-packing my carry-on baggage so I could have a clean outfit to wear when picked up in Tashkent by embassy staff.
I even walked to Times Square and reveled in the big lights, buying a banana from a street vendor and leaving my change to him. Walking down the street, I was all smiles.
My first week of orientation into the Foreign Service has already passed in a blur of exhilaration, jitters, gratitude, lack of coffee, heightened emotion and general overwhelm.