Tag Archives: foreign service

My empire of dirt

After weeks of impatiently waiting for our household effects (HHE) to arrive, we got to the point of patiently waiting, and then we started to think the shipment would never come and we told ourselves to just be okay with that. Best to temper expectations as you never know how quickly things will clear customs, right? Well, it actually did arrive. Our HHE crossed an ocean and part of a continent and arrived at our door on the other side of the world. And after all that, rather than celebrate having all our stuff, the only thing I could think is, “Why do we have so much junk?! How did we accumulate all of this??” We weren’t even close to our 7,200 pound allowance and it still seemed that a ludicrous amount of stuff had arrived. With the exception of a few things I needed for the kids, I hadn’t even missed any of it. I had forgotten about most of it. It was the opposite of our reaction to the UAB (700 lb air shipment). I don’t wish to sound ungrateful- we are so grateful that we are able to make a house feel like a home on the other side of this planet, but it was a point of realization for me. If my little family of four is together, we really don’t need all of the excess stuff. The past few months have been like going back to Danny and my first few years of marriage when we lived out of just a couple of backpacks. Everything we owned could be carted around on our backs. It’s always a good reminder- this life isn’t about stuff. It’s about people. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to cut this short- there’s a sale at IKEA that I simply can’t miss.

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Santa, Father Frost, and a neon duck

Many of you ended your holiday celebrations weeks ago but for Russia, today is the last day before the country goes back to business as usual. Russians don’t celebrate December 25th as the main event like we do in the States. Rather, they use the Russian Orthodox calendar and celebrate Christmas in January. New Years is the biggest holiday of all and from December 31-January 12, the country is mostly shut down as everyone visits loved ones and, for the most part, hunker down indoors away from the cold. The Embassy is closed for both US and Russian holidays which has been great fun for our family. We took advantage of the empty roads (which are normally clogged with the worst traffic on earth) and explored the city. Over the holidays we also attended several parties hosted by the Embassy, pre-school, and the community we live in. There are some Christmas/New Years characters in Russian tradition that we aren’t familiar with. Rather than Santa, they have Дед Мороз (Ded Moroz, or in English, “Father Frost”) who is often accompanied by his granddaughter, Снегурочка,(Snegurochka or “Snow Maiden”). These two seem reasonable but also in attendance at the celebrations are a neon duck, bunny, fox and a few animals that I couldn’t identify.P1040533 (2) It’s confusing and strange and one of my favorite parts of living overseas. I thoroughly enjoy the feeling of complete bewilderment as I observe traditions and ceremonies that are fantastical and unexplainable to me but obviously familiar to my host country. It makes me try to view our own traditions from the perspective of an outsider.

The children also took turns using long cloth hands to try and knock hats off one another. Danny was pulled in to compete against another father in a “Big Man” round. He lost decidedly. 🙂 The best part of the day was absolutely the mulled wine. We need more mulled wine during holiday parties in the U.S. Between all the days off and the mulled wine, we are quickly coming on board with some of the more European aspects of life!

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Christmas wish granted- our UAB arrived!

I’ve read a lot of other Foreign Service blogs and it’s quite apparent that the UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) is not only a treasured delivery but an event in and of itself. We experienced our very first UAB event just before Christmas and it was every bit as exciting as we’d heard. For those not familiar with living abroad with the US Gov, each family receives the bulk of their stuff a few months after arrival in a new country. This comes in the form of the Household Effects (HHE) shipment which travels via slow boat. But about 3 weeks after arrival, you get an air shipment (700lbs for a family of four) and it is awesome. Living in a place furnished like a rather plain hotel (orange-ish couches and granny-style tables), bleak white walls, and using dull “welcome kit” kitchen knives like ice picks to try and chip away pieces of beets, carrots, and potatoes is great and all….but you can see how a few of your own belongings would be welcome. Our own towels that don’t exfoliate the better portion of your skin, sheets that don’t scrape you awake every time you roll over….luxuries. I’m being overly dramatic (except about the knives), but the arrival of the UAB really was great. I learned a few things for next time:

  • Calculate out 3 months from your arrival and ask yourself what you’ll need before that. It sounds obvious and it should be but when you’ve just had a baby and are trying to organize life to move overseas, obvious things aren’t always so obvious. I packed enough diapers for like a week. A WEEK. That made no sense. Also, our sled, long underwear, door mat, and shoe rack will all arrive after the snow starts to subside…. oops.
  • Bring a knife and cutting board in your checked luggage. Seriously. Ice picking your way through root vegetables is not only frustrating, it’s dangerous.
  • Just because you can bring 8 checked bags and 8 carry on items doesn’t mean you should. When 50% of your family is too small to carry their own stuff through the airport, it’s better to reprioritize what you need. I didn’t write about it but we were a real gong show in the airports.
  • One towel per person is probably enough in the UAB. I packed about 20. And hardly any diapers. Ugh- or deodorant. I bought some here to get by but I currently smell like a teenage boy who doused himself in too much aftershave.

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Quitting your job in a recession…genius

Mountains, islands, sealife, beautiful yachts, friendly co-workers, a great boss…these are just some of the things that welcomed me to work each day at San Juan Sailing, a charter company and sailing school servicing the amazing archapelago known as the San Juan Islands.  I lived in a euphoric little place called Bellingham, Washington in a house overlooking a lake with a large deck that hosted many a bbq with family and friends. My husband and I were even able to afford our rent. And then we quit. We quit in a recession. Now we live across the country from eveyone we know and love, and we spend our days in a small shoebox of an apartment that costs nearly twice what our big beautiful house on the lake did. It’s okay to judge, sometimes I think we’re complete morons too.

Danny, my husband, is smart. Really smart. And he got into Georgetown University for a Master’s of Science in Foreign Service. Georgetown is number 1 in the country for Grad progams in International Relations, and when the number 1 school takes you- you go. How can you tell Madeline Albright and George Tennent that while you appreciate the offer, you will not able to make it? So that is why in the midst of a recession, we quit our great jobs, packed up our perfect house, said goodbye to our best friends and loved ones, and moved from Washington state to Washington D.C.

I spend my days searching the internet, looking for signs of life in the economy. People keep telling me that D.C. is the best place to be right now, but with every ignored application I submit, I believe them a little less. Now the thing I really don’t get is why a company would advertise for openings and then completely ignore or blow off applicants? After submitting an application, I usually follow up with a phone call later in the week. This is how a typical follow-up call goes:

Girl at front desk: Hello, welcome to Schuman and Associates.

Me: Hello, my name is Kathryn. May I speak with Ms. Jackson please?

Girl at front desk: Does she know you?

Me: I applied for a writing and editing position that was advertised on Craigslist and I just wanted to follow up with her.

Girl at front desk: Uh-huh. Well, she’s in a meeting. All day. I’ll tell her you called.

Me: Would you like my phone number?

Girl at front desk: I’m sure she has it, but okay, whatever, go ahead.

Me: I can almost see you playing solitaire. You aren’t going to write anything down are you?

This is life right now. Oh the days of sailboats and friends….


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