Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Flag Day: Guadalajara

So what happens when a family makes the decision to join the Foreign Service? Initially, two things happen (well, three, if you count uprooting and moving to Virginia/Washington, DC).

The first thing that happens is that the new officers attend A-100.
The second thing is that the officers and their family members anxiously await Flag Day.

A-100 is the name given to the orientation training class for new FSO's. Taught at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, A-100 is where FSO's receive "the basics" prior to branching off into specialized training for their different career tracks, geographic specialties, and language requirements.

Flag Day is a special event that occurs on the fourth Friday of this five-week course. Flag Day gets its name for the simple fact that the FSO's are presented with a small flag of the country to which they have been assigned for their first post.

This one hour event is a harrowing experience. Officers and their wives/husbands/partners/children gather in a small auditorium with their peers, eager to learn whether or not their voices have been heard. Did the week of research that went into the bid list submission amount to anything, or was it all for naught?

TJ and I were very fortunate in two regards: His name was called relatively early, sparing us the agony of anticipation; and we were assigned to a post that we had bid at the top of our list.

Guadalajara, located in the Mexican state of Jalisco (flag pictured above), meets our needs: There are no pet import restrictions. Learning Spanish will allow TJ the opportunity to fulfill his language requirement for earning tenure. The city has a large GLBT community, which meets our preference for a diverse environment.

Those that read my previous post may remember my concern about not knowing enough about the posts to recognize whether I should be happy or sad when the time came. Let me tell you now how happy I was when TJ's name was called for Guadalajara. It's close to Texas, which is important to my parents. US travel will be easy. Despite the dangers in parts of Mexico, Guadalajara has managed to avoid bad press (at least for now). Most important of all, TJ looked overjoyed as he ran for the stage.

He's going to be an amazing diplomat. It wasn't until hours later that he confided that he knew next to nothing about Guadalajara at the time, and was just "putting on appearances."

We have since done a bit of research. The city is beautiful. The housing is spacious and modern. Many of the American food and shopping venues we love will be available to us. The nightlife looks amazing...OK, so initial research was a little shallow. We don't leave until November. We'll have all of this figured out by then.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Six Flags Over Texas, FIFTY-Six Flags Over Me

Six Flags Over Texas is an amusement park in Arlington, Texas. The name of the park refers to the six nations that have had a hand in governing Texas throughout its history: France, Spain, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, The Confederate States of America, and the United States of America.

The Republic of Texas was dissolved on December 29, 1845, making Texas the 28th state to join the Union (side note# 1: my dearest Florida was number 27, joining on March 3rd of the same year).
The last Confederate flag was lowered on November 6, 1865 (side note# 2: Florida and Texas had both been members...not their finest moment, to be sure).
France, Spain, Mexico, and the United States are all that remain of these six nations.

Today, sometime after 3pm, TJ and I will find out if we will be living in one of them...or in one of fifty-two other countries that were on the bid list.

In my childhood, I never thought much about where the park got its name. All I knew was that I enjoyed going there. I loved the shows; the rides; the music; the food; the characters.

In my post-collegiate years, I never thought much about the shared past between Texas and Florida. I just enjoyed living in Orlando. I loved the shows; the rides; the music; the food; the characters.

Today, the follies of my past weigh heavily on me. I've never been much for politics or history. A terrible faux pas, i know. One that I now realize I must remedy. The outcome of today's Flag Day Ceremony is very much unknown. What is almost guaranteed is that, of the 56 flags hanging over my head, the one that TJ holds today will not be that of the USA. Will I be happy? Will I be sad? Will I know enough about the country to even know which of those emotions I am supposed to feel?

TJ and I spent a good amount of time reviewing our options, paying special consideration to the pet import restrictions, the language requirements (TJ must learn a foreign language to gain tenure), inherent dangers of the post, and any sort of bonus pay involved (money = good). When the flag is handed to him today, we will know immediately where it fell on our list of preferences...but that doesn't mean that I even begin to have a grasp on the situation.

But you can bet that I'll be doing some heavy reading in the weeks to come.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rolling Right Along

This past weekend finally felt...real. The dust has settled, I'm feeling adjusted, and a routine is slowly but surely being established. By Friday, I will have been working remotely for a solid month, and we will have been in the Metro DC area for five whole weeks. My body is finally understanding that this is not an extended vacation. This is life.

As such, the weekend brought with it some of the things that would typically occur during an Orlando weekend for me, albeit with a twist or two.

Having enjoyed a Shabbat service at DC's Temple Micah the previous week, TJ and I decided to see how the gays brought in the Sabbath at the Jewish Community Center on Friday night. Not much to say here, save that we will be returning to Temple Micah post haste. On the bright side, we ran into a half dozen of TJ's coworkers as we were getting on the homebound metro, and they convinced us to turn around and join them for drinks at Russia House. We ran into another half dozen or so of TJ's new coworkers at the bar, and a fun time was had by all. The evening ended in a shared cab ride home, but not before a 30-seconds-long chance encounter with an unmarked strip joint beside the ATM.

TJ and I caught a movie (Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, in IMAX 3D) on Saturday morning with one of TJ's new coworkers, Susan. We met Susan at a meet n' greet the Monday evening before the FSO's started their new gig. I like Susan; We made a pact early on that it was okay to be inappropriate around each other. This type of bond is especially important if you're living somewhere like DC, where everyone has to put on airs.

Saturday afternoon found us heading to the DC National Guard Armory to join even more of TJ's coworkers for perhaps the most unusual thing I have ever seen: Roller Derby. From Wikipedia:

Roller derby is an American-invented contact sport—and historically, a form of sports entertainment—based on formation roller skating around an oval track, with points scored as certain players lap members of an opposing team. In past decades, roller derby had been primarily a professional or paid sport for both women and men. Contemporary roller derby is international,[1][2] predominantly female, typically operates on an amateur (or unpaid) circuit, and has a strong do it yourself ethic [3] which often features both athleticism[4] and a punk[5] third-wave feminism[6] aesthetic.

I didn't read that until today, though, so all I saw was a couple dozen women wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants rolling in circles. Still, it was fun. I'd go again, given the chance.

Sunday was a regular shopping day at Tyson's Corner, followed by Vietnamese food and the Academy Awards.

What a great weekend. There were some oddball events that tell me I'm not in Orlando anymore, yet some normal moments that remind me there's no place like home...and home is where, and what, you make it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Glinda the Good

One of the greatest joys of working is finding the few diamonds in the rough amongst your co-workers...the people that you truly enjoy and would gladly welcome into your personal life. I was fortunate enough to find a couple of those at my current job, and this post is about one of them.

Glinda is a sweetheart. Loving wife. Mother of two. Grandmother of one. She consistently goes out of her way to help people. She once handed me two $25 gift cards and a box of chocolate liqueur candies, just because. She gave her sister an entire living rooms set...the one she had just purchased for her own house. She is raising her grandson. On my last day working in Orlando, she baked the most delicious lasagna I have ever eaten.

I didn't get the opportunity to spend much time with her outside of work, and that was probably my own fault. Although I enjoy spending time with my co-workers, I'm always hesitant to get too close to them. I like to keep it professional, to a fault. I did have the pleasure of having her over for dinner a couple of weeks before the move. TJ made his Paula Deen fried chicken, she brought a bottle of wine, and I just ate and drank to my heart's content. It was a pleasant evening, and I instantly wished that there had been more of them.

My final day in the office, right before she left for the day, Glinda handed me a note. As I read the note, she told me that if I held onto it long enough, maybe one day I would find it when I needed it most, and think of her. I gave her a hug, and tucked the note into my desk calendar. I told her that no matter what, I would find it in August 2010 at the very least.

Living in Northern Virginia has not been the thrill ride I had hoped for. Working from home has its challenges (loneliness chief among them) and I am of course concerned about what I will do once we move overseas. The dogs are having difficulty readjusting to apartment living and bark at the slightest noise in the hallway. TJ works a lot. Traffic is horrible. I miss my friends. I could complain more, but you get the picture. I'm not miserable, but I'm not perky either.

Today was moving day, part deux. When we initially moved in, our two bedroom unit was not available. Today, after three delays, it was finally ready. TJ is out of town on a work retreat, which left the moving chores to me. On what was probably my 20th trip downstairs to the new apartment, I heard a rustle of paper behind me. I looked down and realized that I was carrying my desk calendar. Glinda's note had fallen out...a whole five months early, but just when I needed it. Here is what it said:

"Someday, some time from now, if you happen to come across this note, just remember: enjoy the journey, because what matters the most in life are the memories we create. They are our mental time capsule, so fill it up!"

Glinda's right. When I look back on my time in the Metro DC area, I don't want to remember feeling grumpy, culture shocked, lonely, or out of place. I want to remember feeling happy, excited, loved, and adventurous.

At least I HAVE a job in this troubled economy. The dogs are just trying to protect us. DC offers excellent public transportation. I don't have many friends in the area, but the ones I do have are amazing, and I'm meeting more people all the time. TJ works a lot, but he's doing it for us...and living abroad will of course be the experience of a lifetime.

It's time to start filling up that time capsule. Thanks, Glinda!