Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Thousand Pounds of Joy

It's transfer season for the Foreign Service. For those of you who think there are only four seasons, you are correct. They are EER (employee evaluation report which is the State Department's way of making sure we all have inferiority complexes) season, transfer season, bidding (when we beg for jobs) season, and the season where you could get a lot done but everyone is taking vacation that they couldn't take during the above three seasons and then it's Christmas and then New Year's and then we're back to EERs. I'm only joking a little. I actually get a ton of work done during EER season because that's when I do everything awful that I've put off for months but would rather do than my EER. Like cleaning out my file drawers or reorganizing my paperwork by color, or working on everyone else's EERs.

But transfer season is really the worst of the four. Seriously. You're either doing the work of the 1/3 of the Foreign Service who are moving this summer in addition to your own regular duties, or you're actually moving which really is the worst. Seriously. I got so stressed about moving next year that Husband and I extended and are staying in India another year just to avoid it. OK, also because we love India, but even if we didn't really love it, we might still extend because sorting and supervising the packing probably has sucked away years from my life. Every spring, I have my annual running from a tornado dream which comes from growing up in Texas and living in Tornado Alley. Now every summer, I also have a nightmare about packing and moving in which I am trying to supervise the movers and the pile of stuff keeps getting bigger.

Every year, a bunch of helpful people give everyone else suggestions on how to reorganize their homes in time for the big move. Like you should put all your jewelry in Saran wrap (that would require a huge amount of Saran wrap for me) or you can build crates for your antiques out of the bookcase you made from the crates your stuff was shipped in and isn't it wonderful that you can just recycle the wood again? And here is their 5 page labeling system that you only need a label maker, 17 different colored dot stickers, and a degree in theoretical physics to figure out. I can just see us now: Babe, can you pass me the cerulean dots? No, not the azure ones. I said ceruuuulean!
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But this year, the helpful people keep posting about Kon Mari and how they got rid of 5,000 pounds of stuff because they picked up each object they own and if it didn't "spark joy", then they threw it out. There are a few problems with this method, the first being that I happen to have a lot of stuff that is extremely useful, yet will never spark my joy. For example: tampons. Now, some people might get joy out of a huge box of super-size tampons, but they are sick, so we aren't talking about them. We are talking about me and I find nothing about tampons to be joyful, but I have three boxes of them because when you are moving to a foreign country, you buy tampons in bulk. And do not try to get rid of them or I will spark your joy right into next week!

The other problem with Kon Mari is that people who follow this method want a room that looks like this:
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Now, aside from all the sharp corners and the white couches which are just begging to have a toddler write all over them in pink highlighter, there a couple of other things I don't like about this room. One is that they only own two books. And another is that if you think that is the kind of furniture that the federal government purchases for the Foreign Service, then you don't know your federal government very well. What we have is more along the lines of this:

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Now imagine having to create a room around that and you can see that minimalist is NOT the way to go. Husband is actually a minimalist and believes that we should get rid of a lot of stuff because our home should be clean and sparkling like in the white photo above. And he complains that we have too much stuff all the time. But my style is more like this:

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Which now that I think about it, rather explains my strange and insistent desire to have red couches when we moved to India so that now our living room looks like this:

The blur is because I suck at taking photos with my laptop, especially when I have to duck out of the way and get the angle right AND click on the stupid icon all at the same time. Our post has this amazing slipcover program, so that's why my couch isn't the usual mustard color. But you can see that I own more than two books. I own more than two of most things because of scarcity. For example, I have two green stripey skirts. Because my green stripey skirt is my favorite and I wear it all the time, so when I saw another green stripey skirt, I bought it because someday my green stripey skirt will wear out or get a hole in it and THEN WHAT WILL I WEAR WHEN I WANT TO WEAR MY GREEN STRIPEY SKIRT AND I CAN'T?! Because being in the Foreign Service is a little like having to shop to prepare for a famine of things like good spatulas, or green stripey skirts, or elephant throw pillows, for example. When you see the Cheerios, you buy the Cheerios because next week they will not be there to buy and we had a whole year in China without Cheerios and I don't want to relive that again. So when you see a beautiful tiger vase, you should buy it, hypothetically. Or literally since now we have a tiger vase in our dining room which I bought on Saturday.

So the very best piece of advice by the Kon Mari person is that you should hold each of your possessions in your hands and ask yourself if each one sparks joy and that is the stupidest suggestion ever because OF COURSE they spark joy or I wouldn't have bought them! And also, I have so much stuff that it would take at least a month if I did nothing else but hold each sock or string of pearls or decorative dish in my hand and ask if it sparked joy. (Answer: No, but you still have to have socks. Yes, and DUH!)

I know you think all of those things in that living room couldn't possibly spark joy, but let's go through a few, shall we? That's the collected works of the Brontë sisters on the shelf which Husband gave me for my birthday after Child 1 was born because she was named for two of them. And that olive green bowl is the one I made with Child 2 when her 5th grade class went on a field trip to the celadon factory and it is filled with ammonites which we bought by the kilo in China and we still love to look at and know we're holding 100 million years of history in our hands which I'm totally not exaggerating because I googled it. Child 3 still loves to sift through them to find the baby one. The handmade bowl of ammonites is sitting on the doily of Belgian lace that I got on the best TDY ever to Brussels.

Those paintings on top of the bookcases? My grandfather bought those in Germany in 1932 and they hung in his house for years and I loved them and wanted to go there and see Rothenburg ob der Tauber in person and then Husband and I actually did. And that globe in the middle is the one we gave Husband for Father's Day one year which is inlaid with semi-precious stones and everything is spelled wrong because we got it in China which is why it sparks so much joy and giggles when we take it down and read it. And that chest on the left is called a bai fu gui (百 富 柜 ) which is literally covered in 100 different Chinese characters for the word "Fu" which means both bat and rich and apparently 98 other things. That cabinet sparks joy in me every time I see it.

So the way I see it, we can either live with the thousands of pounds of joy we have collected over the years and still enjoy them, or we can erase my memory so I don't remember why the fishbowl full of chopsticks brings me joy. Since the latter is not very desirable because nobody will ever find anything in the house ever again if I can't remember where they last put it, it will have to be the former. I'll take my thousand pounds of joy over that sterile white room any day. Gerald the giraffe which I got as change in the Congo is way better than a brownie and I'm not giving him up.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

More than prayers

I realize it's been a long time since I blogged. I'm not going to apologize, but I will explain a little. As many of you know, I'm a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State. I worked very hard for many years to realize that dream and I'm extremely proud of my service to my country. The following is purely my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of State. But I would like to tell my personal story of why I became a Foreign Service Officer, so you can understand what I do and why I do it.

Although many of my relatives and former neighbors in Texas might not believe it because I committed the sin of leaving Texas, I am a very patriotic person who is very loyal to my country. As a young girl, I dreamed of serving my country as an adult. I thought seriously about the military, but at the time I was becoming an adult, women weren't allowed to serve in combat positions. I had wanted to be a Navy pilot, but when I learned I couldn't fly off of carriers, I thought well what is the point, then. A few years later, I learned about the Foreign Service. Some of my friends were taking the exam and asked if I was going to as well. I didn't even know what it was. I knew I wanted to do something international and up until that point, my goal had been to be an interpreter at the United Nations. When I found out that you could serve your country by working in embassies overseas, I thought that's for me! So at 19, even though I was too young to take the exam, that became my dream. I majored in International Relations. I got an MA in International and Area Studies. My thesis was on the Role of NATO in Bosnia (see the military theme still at work?) I studied German and French. I became fluent in Norwegian. The Norwegian hasn't helped me so much because I am never successful at getting a job in Norway, but it did take away my fear of lesser-known languages.

When I met Husband, the very first thing I learned about him was that he, too wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer. And then he smiled and I was hooked line and sinker. Not long after we were married, work took us on a trip to Washington, DC. We were invited to dinner by friends to their town house in Virginia and we knew that was the life we wanted--to be employed by the Department of State and own a townhouse in Virginia. And a couple of decades later, here we are. I still have to pinch myself sometimes that I'm living my dream. I get to serve my country AND live in India. It's the best of all worlds.

Now, some Americans believe that I must not love America because I keep leaving it. Some of those Americans are related to me and have said exactly that. I assure you, that is as far from the truth as you can get. I am reminded daily of what a blessing and a privilege it is for me to be an American. I am constantly humbled by the faith and trust my nation has placed in me to represent my country overseas. The only thing I can give my country in return is my gratitude and my very best efforts. Most of the Foreign Service Officers I know feel the same way. We work very hard at what we do for long hours and in places many Americans are afraid to go with very little recognition. We are there to serve our fellow citizens and when they need us, we do not ask first whom they voted for. If you are American and you need us, we will be there for you. Period.

So here is my prayer and my pledge to my fellow Americans. I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will do so with all my might, mind, heart, and strength.

I hope with all of my heart that you are never a victim of a natural disaster while you are traveling overseas. But if you are, I will do everything in my power to find you, make sure you are safe, and help you find a way home.

I hope your business is never seized by a foreign government for no reason other than you are becoming too successful. But if it is, I will do everything in my power to help you fight to get it back.

I pray that you will never be the victim of a violent crime while living overseas. But if you are, I will go with you to the police station and hold your hand while you make your statement. And as a bonus, I will even lecture the local authorities if they ask you inappropriate questions like what were you wearing that provoked the attack.

I want you to live a long, happy, prosperous life in America. But if you die unexpectedly and your family is overseas, I will come in on the weekend to print their visas so they can make it to the funeral.

I truly hope that you will never travel to North Korea and be detained. But if you do, and you are sentenced to hard labor, I will do everything in my power to get you out. I will even fly to Pyongyang to meet with officials to beg for your release. (OK, I won't but Husband will and has. And his Korean is much better than mine, anyway.)

I hope you are never robbed by a taxi driver on your first day in a foreign country. But if you are, I will help you get in touch with your family,  and make sure you have a place to stay and food to eat until they can either get more money to you or get you a flight home.

I pledge to be the friendly face in your time of need, for whatever reason. I will let you cry on my shoulder when your prematurely born baby dies, or laugh with joy as your adoption of a child is finalized, or help you negotiate confusing marriage regulations in the country you chose for your destination wedding.

I promise that I will visit you regularly if you get sent to prison for drug smuggling or soliciting prostitutes or for taking photos in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for speaking your mind like Americans can do back home but the local government thinks is treasonous or blasphemous. I will carry messages from your family and I will bring you magazines and books and I'll update you on the NBA championships, the SuperBowl, or the Oscars. I'll discuss whatever you want and I will keep coming back even if you refuse to see me, just to let you know that someone from home cares what happens to you.

My fellow Foreign Service Officers and I do care. We care deeply about our country, and all of our actions are meant to help the United States and its citizens. This is only a short list of what we do, based mostly on my own experience. If my FSO friends want to comment on some of the things they do to keep America great, they are welcome to.

And if my fellow Americans would remember that I am also one of them, and not a faceless lazy bureaucrat bent on destroying the American way of life, but rather a girl from Texas who loves being American and loves adventure and is proud to serve her country, well, that would be way better than a brownie.
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