I love it when a plan comes together

Our next post is Windhoek, Namibia! We will arrive in September 2019, insha’Allah, and we could not be more excited.

I wrote earlier about third tour bidding, and it was a stressful unpleasant time for all of us. I didn’t really realize how stressful it’d been until it was over and I felt like I could finally relax.

We had initially identified Windhoek as one of our top choices, and pretty quickly it became our top choice. Nate was placed on the short list, which was sent to the bureau in DC, and a few weeks later he was notified that he was the bureau-leading candidate. Then, about a week later, he was offered a handshake for the job. Now he is waiting to be paneled, which means that all the job offers are being reviewed to make sure they aren’t breaking any rules. After being paneled, cables will be sent to out with travel orders and so forth. I’m not sure how long the whole paneling thing takes, but hopefully it won’t be too long. In the meantime we are planning to explore Oman some more and make the most of the rest of our time here.

Namibia a huge country (twice the size of California) in southern Africa with a population of only two million people, which makes it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. It’s home to the Namib desert and some of the world’s tallest sand dunes, and it’s also the first country in Africa with environmental conservation and protection written into its constitution. There are lots of national parks and game reserves throughout the country, plus wineries and craft breweries. And did I mention that you can easily buy pork products throughout Namibia?! We absolutely cannot wait to get out and explore everything that Namibia has to offer.

It’s a huge weight off our shoulders to know where we’re headed next, and now we can buckle down and start checking off the last of our Oman must-do’s.  Experience tells us that things can change on a dime, so we are going to make the time count while we can. And then, hold on Namibia, here we come!

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Bidding with the big kids

I’m interrupting the blog posts about our adventures for a minute here to talk about something that is a big deal and the cause of a lot of stress in the Foreign Service: bidding.

I’ve mentioned bidding previously, but this is a horse of a different color. As a Foreign Service officer, your first two tours are directed assignments. That means that you put together a list of where you’d like to go and then other people decide where you actually go. Dhaka and Muscat were our two directed assignments.

After you finish your directed assignments, the training wheels come off and you have to start bidding along with everyone else, whether they’re also newly minted mid-level officers or they’ve been in the service for 20 years. The first step is looking at the projected bid list. This is a list of all the possible job openings, and it gives you an idea of what jobs will be available when bidding starts.

Everyone has different priorities that will dictate their bidding strategies, whether it’s pets, kids, hardship differential, specific jobs, tandem couples, medical needs, etc. In our case, here is what we’re generally looking for:

  • Someplace that won’t be nearly impossible to get Athena to. So, no long quarantines and no extraordinarily complicated dog entry requirements.
  • Someplace with affordable household help. Let’s be honest, in this household, having a nanny and housekeeper makes everyone’s lives better.
  • Someplace with minimal terrorism risk. We learned that lesson the hard way in Dhaka
  • Someplace where I could potentially get a job in public health. I miss it a lot.
  • Anything but DC. We want to stay overseas.

So you look at what’s available versus what you want, and you start to craft a draft list. Maybe you start to reach out to incumbents, and you start seeing what connections you have to the jobs that you’re interested in. Friends who have friends that they served with previously that are now in the country you’re interested in, friends from A-100 at a particular post and know the incumbent, a colleague who knows the Deputy Chief of Mission, that sort of thing. Anything that could give you a potential “in” when the time comes.

Eventually, bidding officially begins. The bid list goes live and you can start entering your bids, and posts will begin to out for interviews. Hopefully you can use the contacts from the previous paragraph and you have kept a good corridor reputation (which is basically formalized gossip).

Within the State Department bidding website, you can see how many people are bidding on each job. Some jobs will have 25+ bidders, some will have 2 or 3. It all depends. Not every job you bid on will want to interview you, especially if they have a lot of bidders.

After the interviews are finished, you  might find yourself on the shortlist. This is the point that we’re at right now, and frankly, I have no idea what happens next. Nate’s in the “meat market” and there could be air kisses, shoot-outs or handshakes (seriously). I don’t know what most of that means, except for handshakes, which is what you ultimately aim for because it means you got the job.

If that all seems confusing, nebulous and vague, that’s because it is. We never really know exactly what the next step is, and luckily we’ve got good friends and colleagues that are helping us navigate third tour bidding.

Next assignments are officially announced on October 29, and hopefully we won’t have to wait that long to find out where we go next. In the meantime I’m trying to not get myself emotionally attached to any particular potential post or get my hopes up. You never know. As long as we don’t wind up back in DC, I’ll be happy!

Flag Day recap

Oh, Flag Day.  What an emotional, exciting, panic attack-inducing day.  The most highly anticipated event of any A-100 class.

We had planned on going through the bid list on Thursday night and naming a positive aspect of each post so that we would be prepared for whatever Flag Day would bring.  But I was out late with our friends who were moving the following day, and Nate had loads of homework to catch up on, so that didn’t happen.

The next morning was like Christmas morning when I was a kid: I bounded out of bed earlier than I had planned, and I spent all day anticipating the afternoon.  Luckily I had a lot to keep me busy, otherwise it would have been the longest day ever.

That afternoon, I arrived at the FSI and sat with a fellow EFM.  The room was full of nervous excitement that just made everyone even more nervous and excited. Also, I don’t know if people hadn’t RSVP’d with how many people they had coming or what, but the room was short probably 100 chairs.  There were lines two to three people deep along the sides and back of the room.

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Finally the ceremony started, which included a procession of three people carrying all the tiny flags that they would hand out to each trainee.  There were many standing ovations, many introductions, and all I could think was, “Why don’t they just get started already?!”

The first flag on the screen was Saudi Arabia, which was one of our lows.  They were going through the posts really quickly, and eventually they called Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which was one of the posts that I *really* wanted.  Nate’s name wasn’t called and I felt slightly deflated, but one of Nate’s classmates who really wanted that post got it, and I’m happy for her and her husband.

Okay, I’m a little jealous.

Anyways, they kept calling off the posts, and eventually they called the first Dhaka post, which was followed by Nate’s name!  Nate cheered and proudly walked up to get his flag and to take an official photo.  Dhaka was one of our highs, a last-minute addition, and I know it’ll be a great opportunity for our family.

Three other people from Nate’s class are also going to Dhaka and I’m really glad to be part of a group of newcomers who will be figuring things out alongside us.

After the ceremony, several FSOs who are going to Dhaka later this year and are currently in language training came up to us and introduced themselves.  They gave Nate a little lapel pin with the American flag next to the Bangladeshi flag and invited us to a reception at the Bangladeshi embassy this coming Monday.  The FSOs told us how excited they are to be going to Dhaka and what a great post it will be.

Their enthusiasm and excitement made me even happier, and I genuinely can’t wait to move to Dhaka!

 

Waiting sucks

I didn’t even know it was possible for time to go by this slowly.  I now understand why most blogs tend to taper off during A-100: after you submit your bid list, it’s all you can think about, and waiting for Flag Day is the pits, but most people probably don’t want to read like five posts on you day dreaming about getting sent to one of your highs, especially since, OMG, you already handed in the stupid list, and whatever happens happens so get over it already.

Anyways, Nate is at a class retreat in West Virginia, and I’m not really sure what that entails.  I’m imagining a ropes course, trust falls, grilling hot-dogs over a campfire, and bunk beds in log cabins.

I’m traveling to North Carolina for a work training this afternoon.  I’m staying at a hotel by the airport, and if there’s anything I’ve learned over my years of traveling, it’s that there’s never anything fun near the hotels by the airport.

Other than that, not much is happening.  Athena saw me come down the steps with my suitcase in hand, and she started running around, wagging her tail.  She probably thinks we’re going to Canada again, poor girl.  She got her most recent BarkBox in the mail last Friday, which was a momentous occasion for her.  This was a particularly good box: 4 different kinds of treats and a squeaky toy!

 

Signed, sealed, and emailed

Guess what we did today?!

We submitted our bid list!

Thank God.  I’m glad it’s over.  It’s out of our hands now, and whatever happens, happens.

We had 12 days to rank all the posts high, medium, or low, and towards the end I was ready to just be done with it.  It’s an exciting, fun, overwhelming, and sometimes disappointing process (“Did you know such-and-such-a-place has a some-large-number day dog quarantine, during which time the vet can do whatever it wants to your dog, including euthanizing it, and they don’t even need your authorization?!”).

There are dreams of perfect posts, expectations you hope will be met, and wonderings about how you’d cope with a low post.  You talk about your bid list with other FSOs and their EFMs, careful not to talk up a post too much because maybe then they’ll bid it high too (which sounds terrible and evil, I know).  You worry you spend too much time talking about The List with your non-FSO friends and that they’re getting tired of hearing about it.

Well, what’s done is done, and now the waiting game continues.  But at least I don’t feel like I need to be doing more post research in the mean-time.

The what-do-you-mean-we-only-get-one-I-want-15 list…

… also known as the the I-could-definitely-handle-living-there-for-2-years list, the It-will-never-be-as-bad-as-Peace-Corps list, or the Our-low-picks-ban-pits list.

Any of those descriptors sum up our bid list.  There are so many really, really awesome posts (some of which we bid high because when you see something like that how can you *not* bid it high? And then others that we didn’t bid high because they ban certain dog breeds) and it’s overwhelming thinking that we will get just one of them.  I mean, obviously we can’t have all our top choices, but what if some of these amazing posts never show up on a bid list again?  I would be really sad if I never had a chance to live in some of these countries.

For instance, one top choice is in a tropical area where we would have a house (with a yard!  You know we love yards!), and maybe even fruit trees, and I would have employment opportunities.  But if we got that post we wouldn’t be able to go hiking in the mountains on the weekends, and the climate would be hot all the time.  If we got the post near the mountains then we would only get produce that is seasonal and winters could be crappy.

Are there any places with a USA embassy or consulate that are on an ocean/major body of water, have mountains close by, local tropical produce and temperate climate all year long, we would live in a single-family home, is relatively safe and dog-friendly,  and have no major air pollution, and good travel opportunities?

I can’t think of any.

How to pick?

We just got Nate’s bid list, which is the list of all the potential places we could be sent.  There are lots of people in the class, so there are lots of places on the list.  It’s a little overwhelming.

We can’t share exactly what’s on the list, so I won’t go into specifics.  However, I will say this: there are very few places on the list that would truly suck.  Some would be downright awesome, and others would be interesting (in a “that’s interesting…” way).  Our major deciding factors are safety and whether or not we could bring Athena, who is a mutt of unspecified geneology.

Ultimately where we (or Nate) go will be determined by the State Department’s needs.  He is, after all, worldwide available.  Maybe this whole process is just a way of convincing ourselves that we have more say in the location of our first post than we actually do.  Who knows?  We won’t find out until August 1, which can’t get here soon enough!