Ordered departure from U. S. Embassy Caracas has brought with it a variety of challenges and more learning experiences than anyone really needs in such a short period of time. I have memorized the end date of every thirty-day increment between now and July 22. I can tell you daily amounts for lodging, M&IE, transportation, etc. for the Washington DC area for January through July. I can sort SEA payments vs. TDY payments, send GSO contacts, liaise with WHA, collaborate with CEFAR, and submit reports for FLO. Basically, if it is a series of capitalized letters that mean nothing to anyone outside of the State Department, I’ve got it covered. Also, on the more personal and awkward side of the learning curve (because who doesn’t love a bit of semi-public embarrassment?), I now know that when stress-induced stomach problems arise (these were lovingly given a politically insensitive name that I’ll not divulge here), one chewable Pepto tablet (cherry flavor, please!) every forty-five minutes keeps me professional and functional. Two qualities not to be underrated.
Exile status has also created another wrinkle in my day-to-day life. Thanks to our expulsion, I am now geographically single and have been for the last five weeks, with an end date yet-to-be determined, but maybe late March.
Hold the presses.
I just heard that the TBD date on the TDY is potentially getting pushed back even further.
Hey look! More acronyms! If this EFM thing ever doesn’t work out, maybe I can get a gig on Sesame Street doing letter games with toddlers and Grover. Or Cookie Monster. I was always a huge fan of Cookie Monster, although slightly horrified as a child by how much chocolate chip cookie he wasted in his cookie-eating frenzies. My letter-joining prowess would also be a good foil to the Count and his many numbers and my pasty skin would pair well with his purple hue. So, when life as a Foreign Service spouse gets tiring, I’m moving to Sesame Street to spend my days with Cookie Monster and the Count. Imagine those blog posts…
But back to the main event.
After arriving back in Washington DC, Thad was summoned to Managua to help fill in for their deputy consul position, a good fit for him professionally and a chance to spend time in another consular section. From there he has continued to do his Caracas work as well, so he is really working two full time jobs while living out of a suitcase and a hotel room. But he has volcanoes to hike, beaches to visit, and rum factories to tour, so don’t cry too many crocodile tears for him. And while he is hiking and snorkeling and drinking, I’m in DC and possibly going a bit feral.
Granted, I am good Monday-Friday from 7-5. Every weekday morning I’m up and showered and dressed, and I enjoy a bowl of cereal with real milk as I sit on my living room floor, scrolling through my blog stats (it’s a quick scroll!) and catching up on “must read” lists for the month. Soon enough I’m out the door, donning dusty mauve Chuck with my Calvin Klein dress in a style that can only be called DC-professional commuter. (I’ve rocked a similar look in Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, and Caracas, but there is something that is just so “DC” about a woman in a dress and kicks of any kind. It’s not good, really, but it beats the heck out of hiking in heels.) Work keeps me busy. Answering emails. Making calls. Setting up events. Coordinating with the management team. Filming evacuation videos. (Two so far!) And just generally touching base with the officers and family members that are in DC, in Miami, around the country, and back home in Caracas. Days are demanding.
But, evenings and weekends are another story. As a bit of a homebody to begin with (don’t try to reconcile that statement with the fact that my preference would be to travel all the time), I am happy to walk in the apartment each evening, peel off the tights that are squeezing my guts but creating a smooth silhouette (shouldn’t we band together as women to banish Spanx-anything from our lives?) and hop into a pair of leggings, a t-shirt, and an oversized knit sweater. I’ll shuffle around the apartment in slippers like an old lady every night of the week if I don’t have something penciled in on the calendar. (Yes, penciled in. I love a pretty calendar to keep track of days and weeks. If it’s not scrawled in the agenda, it isn’t happening!) Home is where my books are piled on the nightstand, my computer is queued up to Project Runway All-Stars, and I’ve got makeshift writing space set up in the “dining room.” (Note to self: find a cute writing desk while in DC that will fit within the UAB parameters for your return to post.)
As content as I am changing from night pajamas into day pajamas on the weekends, it’s probably not the best option in the long term. But, I’m with people all day long. I definitely get my words for the day in. (If I had a Fitbit-type contraption that counted my words each day, I’d have all the badges. Maybe I should invent this. Instead of having to go out in the cold and walk to get “steps,” the wearer could work on their social game by upping their daily word count. If they don’t talk enough in an hour, the device would buzz on their wrist, reminding them to go chat with someone and get some human contact. At a preset number of words for the day, the wearer would get a nice little congratulatory message with some fireworks and more buzzing. When my ChatBit becomes a real thing, I’m going to be rich!)
I seem to have digressed a bit. (Shark Tank, watch out!)
The point is, my days are filled with people and planning and purpose and now that I come home to an empty apartment, I’m embracing the solitude- maybe too much. Yesterday, in one of my shuffles to the kitchen for Pop-Tarts (seriously, it has come to that), I realized I was talking to myself. Not in the “ask the wall the temperature because you are too used to Alexa” kind of way, but in a “hey, you’re cool, I’ll chat with you” kind of way. I can’t even remember what it was about- probably something having to do with thinking through plans for the week (what are the chances I am able to get that White House tour booked?) or what I need to get at the grocery store (Uncrustables!) or whether I remembered to book a manicure appointment for next Sunday afternoon (no, but they seem to be fine with walk-ins and manicures have become my ordered departure guilty pleasure), but I distinctly remember stopping mid-shuffle with the epiphany that I am possibly going a wee-bit batty.
I can’t blame it on lack of sleep and excessive stress like I did my fantastical packing skills. I can’t blame it on an upset stomach. (Those were nine miserable days. Really. The internet pretty much had me convinced that I had some kind of terrible intestinal cancer. Thank you, WebMD. It’s probably a good thing that I don’t know how to navigate the health care system in the US, or I’d now have a bill for a visit to a doctor to tell me I was stressed out and it made me poop. A lot. That’s a bit of ordered departure allowance saved!)
I blame it solely on my geographical singledom.
The irony of this all is, while writing about how living alone has turned me slightly less domesticated, I’ve added two new social events to the calendar. Seriously. Just in the last forty-five minutes. And of course, I said yes to both. (I want to do both, but I feel like I would have been obligated to say yes even if it was an invitation to a gall bladder surgery.) First, I am meeting a friend for dinner and a lecture about female animators at the Smithsonian. (It is cooler than it sounds, I promise. And even if it weren’t, I’d go because this is my first chance to meet said friend’s boyfriend. She and I became close in Kuala Lumpur and I’ve not met her new beau. She could have invited me to a hanging in Victorian England and I would have said yes, just to meet the guy she is spending her free time with these days. I’ve already promised not to tell any embarrassing Malaysia stories, although if he asks the right questions, I’m likely to spill all the beans.) And then I’m booked with a shopping and dinner date with a different friend and her son. (Wow. I just realized that my social life as a geographical bachelorette is entirely made up of being a third-wheel! I feel like there is some dissecting to be done on that topic…at a later date.)
Ordered departure has been many things in the month and a half I’ve been out of Venezuela. It has been walking away from colleagues and friends and a life in Caracas- at least temporarily. It has been way too many hours of unmentionable stomach issues. But it has also been reuniting with my colleagues and friends at Main State in Washington DC- at least temporarily. And it has been weekends of changing out of llama pajama pants and into turtle sweatpants. But, until the weather gets better and Thad gets back from the sunny days in Managua, I’ll make the best of my solitary hibernation and my slow slide into the nuthouse.