I member military brats telling me what it was like to have to move every few years. You had to make new friends, get used to a new teacher, like or hate your new room. I really couldn’t relate then. Now I can.
The Foreign Service is like that. Every two or three years you move. More than that, so does everybody else, and not at the same time, so life is a constant flow of comings and goings. Eventually, before you even get over being “the new guy”, you’re the veteran. With the recent departure of our Political Officer and next week’s departure of our IMS, I now have more time at Embassy Cotonou than any other FS person with the exception of our Public Diplomacy Officer who through a series of extensions was here when I arrived, and will be here after I leave. Of course, the local staff has been here forever. They are the institutional memory of this place.
Still, even though my August departure is still eight months away, planning for it is well underway, both psychologically and physically.
Physically, I have until February 1 to submit a proposed schedule for the transfer. You’d think this would be simple, but nothing in the Foreign Service is simple. There’s my departure date, which is two years from when I arrived. That’s August (any time in the month will do). There’s the day my job opens up in Ottawa. That’s February 2012. In between, I need to take home leave, a couple of months of French so I can finally get my 3/3 and get off language probation, and some advanced consular courses appropriate for my new job. Of course, not all these courses take place all the time, so I need to work everything out so everything fits. Then there’s the question if I will TDY for my time back in the U.S., or can PCS. If I can PCS, the downside is I don’t get per-diem, but the upside is they’ll deliver my stuff in storage to my house and I can live at home while I’m there, instead of a small apartment. Then I can re-sort and take to Ottawa what I need to furnish my place up there (and deal with the cold) and put what’s left back into storage. Otherwise, everything stays in storage until I get to Ottawa, and although I can take stuff out of storage, all I can do is give them a list based on my not-sufficiently-detailed packing list.
Psychologically, I’m tracking events in Ottawa. For example, it got below zero (Fahrenheit) this week, and before that were several days of snow. Courtesy of an A-100 classmate stationed in Canada (although not Ottawa), I received the latest copy of the Embassy newsletter. I’m wondering whether it makes more sense to rent or buy a place for the two years I’ll be there. I have half a foot out the door.
Still, there’s plenty left to do in Cotonou. For example, there’s a national election coming up in the spring. They’ll be electing a President and all the members of the legislature. Benin has been a model of democracy with several peaceful transfers of power, but there’s always concern. Look at what’s happening in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) right now, where the former President who lost the election won’t give up power. That’s what we’re afraid of. Not expecting, but preparing just in case. The politics have started. One area of controversy is the new computerized list of voters. The opposition claims the party in power has skewed the list. The government denies this. If the election results are close, this is one possible point of controversy. There was the ICC Services “Madoff lite” scandal, which has touched the government but not the Presidency as yet. There are issues at the port. It will be an interesting few months leading up to Election Day. We hope it won’t be “interesting” after.
For those of you who follow this, the latkes came out good on the first try (food processors are wonderful), the churros took two tries, and I learned you really have to eat them warm. Friends claim you can find fillo dough here, and if that’s true, I may make a run at spanikopita (Greek spinach pie) next. All the other ingredients are available.
According to my vegetable guy, we’re a couple of weeks from our first crop of U.S. style corn on the cob if all goes well. We provided the seeds, and he’s doing the growing. If it works, I’ll promise him a captive market to grow more.
Finally, fellow blogger and friend Theresa Carpenter Sondjo has been back in the U.S. where she passed her orals for the Foreign Service. Congratulations. We’ll have corn on the cob to celebrate.