The Foreign Service Institute, a big part of our lives

FSI is 70*

When my spouse joined the Foreign Service (FS) in 2006 as a second career, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) became my new home.  I do not say this lightly; I used to spend more awake time at FSI than in my real home, haunting the campus for training or just for lunch to meet future colleagues.  I learned and benefited from FSI for 10 years as a spouse (technically an Eligible Family Member – EFM in our jargon) and now I have returned to FSI as a Civil Service employee.  Most EFMs only know the Transition Center (TC) at FSI; it actually regroups four other schools providing training in different aspects of a profession and in foreign languages.  I have been an eager learner of all five, and this is my tribute to FSI, turning 70 this year.

FSI70

As most EFMs, my first steps in this new life led me to the Overseas Briefing Center (OBC, a division of TC), where I was able to browse through numerous documentation on all potential posts, watch videos, and register for many interesting classes: Realities of Foreign Service Life, Protocol, Explaining America, EFM Employment, Security Overseas, Logistics, etc. Even our children participated in a Security Overseas seminar where they were encouraged to kick and scream on top of their lungs if they were tentatively kidnapped – imagine us, the parents, in the adjacent room hearing the screams!  We paid it back when our kids produced a quality video on Dakar which won first prize. I am also grateful for TC to invite me regularly as a panel member to help other EFMs, sharing with them my candid experience on FS topics.

During one of the TC workshop, I learned that EFMs could join the Direct Hires (the spouse who has a permanent contract in the Foreign Service) in the professional studies curricula.  To increase my chances to get an EFM position in an embassy overseas, I immediately enrolled in the General Services Officer (GSO) class in the School of Professional and Area Studies (SPAS).  Once completed, I began the Consular training.  As a result of being so well informed and trained, I started at my first embassy in Dakar with a job waiting for me, well-armed to understand my surroundings and act appropriately. Actually, colleagues thought I was a Direct Hire!  Many years later, I attended the CLO training in Frankfurt where I met many neighboring colleagues. This allowed me to build inter-mission partnerships beneficial to our Commissary and share cultural and entertainment information.

The SPAS Pakistan Familiarization course became the key to our fantastic tour in a country reputed to be difficult.  I understood the generic “Islam” label covered many different faiths, learned about tribes and ethnicities, the political landscape shaped by a tumultuous history, and why it took ten months for my husband to get his visa … This allowed us to better understand and communicate with people of Pakistan, friendly strangers in stores, streets, and even children in the mountains.

In the Margalla Hills

Young Villagers in the Margalla Hills

After Dakar, we were assigned to Mexico City and the School of Language Studies (SLS) helped me brush up on my Spanish with distance learning classes followed by a mentor. This allowed me to fill a vacant position where a cleared American with a 3-3 level was sought – I was the only one qualified in the pool of 100+ EFMs! Before going to Pakistan, I took Urdu classes, which facilitated my integration with local colleagues at USAID and with our local implementers. I realized that learning to write the beautiful alphabet helped me learn faster because I could read signs around me and practice outside the classroom.

Between earthquakes in Mexico and a rather unstable situation in Pakistan, I became a natural student of the Leadership and Management School (LMS), learning about Crisis Management Overseas and the No FEAR Act.  While never subject to a real crisis – besides regular earthquakes in Mexico City, coups in all countries surrounding Senegal during our tour, and lock-down in Islamabad, I always felt more secure and less prone to panic knowing that I knew how to act during a dire situation.

In my previous career I have designed many websites but a technical person would eventually code and create them.  With the School of Applied Information Technology (SAIT), I learned SharePoint and was able to create a SharePoint site to advocate for environmental matters at Embassy Budapest.

After eight years overseas we are now back in the United States, and I became a Civil Service employee, starting my learning “series” again.  First, I learned to defend myself in perilous situations during a Basic Defense course (TC); then I participated in the Civil Service Orientation course (SPAS); and later in the Knowledge Management Foundations course (SAIT).

FSI just opened this year a new division: the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience (CEFAR), and with the general context, domestically and overseas, we sure do need a lot of resilience in the Foreign Service!  FSI also provides Distance Learning classes and SkillSoft classes that anyone from the foreign affairs agencies can follow from the comfort of their home, one hour at a time. I cannot encourage enough EFMs to look at the impressive catalog and take a class or two from home or join a class on campus.  FSI has made a permanent positive mark on the lives our entire family, preparing us well for this strange new adventure in the Foreign Service.

*The complete FSI history is available on Amazon: FSI at 70: Future Forward: A History of the Foreign Service Institute.

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Foreign Service – Expect the unexpected!

Life in the Foreign Service brings many unexpected moments and crazy memories and this is the way I like it.

Nobody told me I would …

  • Pilot a Cessna over the Sine Saloum Delta in Senegal – I don’t even have a pilot’s license!
  • Glide from baobab to baobab like Tarzan near the reserve of Bandia.
  • Eat ‘yassa’ chicken with my hands, sitting on the floor in a tiny village near Joal.
  • Take West African businessmen and women to a trade show in Las Vegas and be their nanny 24/7.
  • Drive from Dakar to Bamako on the side of the road, in the sand, because it was safer than dealing with the potholes on the road.
  • Meet Madeleine Albright at breakfast during an American Chamber of Commerce event in Mexico City.
  • Take the kids to Acapulco and learn that, just near us, the narco-traffickers had chopped a dozen heads.
  • Meet and kiss Margarita Zavala, a federal deputy, wife of then president of Mexico Felipe Calderón.
  • Welcome musician and singer Seal at the consulate, chitchat and take photos.
  • Enjoy a lucha libre show with its masked warriors. Lucha libre is a very well-choreographed wrestling competition with heroes and villains. The fun was also among the spectators, for example grandmothers gesturing and yelling chinga tu madre and all other kind of nondescript foul language.
  • Meet and kiss vice-president Biden after his speech at the Embassy in Mexico City, and later receive a letter of appreciation in Pakistan, letter forwarded from Mexico even though it had a wrong address for the Embassy in Mexico.
  • Be car-chased by a crazy man in Chiapas where hubby had to remember and apply all his classes of Crash & Bang defensive driving.
  • Eat powdered ants in a wonderful Mexican dish.
  • Participate and rank top 2 in the first ever triathlon of my life in Islamabad at an age when some of us are grandmothers.
  • Climb the full size brass antelope in the Karachi airport on a dare given by my female boss – who did it too!
  • Be called daughter by a toothless Pakistani villager, thankful that via USAID we brought her electricity.
  • Hike the Margalla hills every week and befriend Pakistani girls in the mountains.
  • Become a designer and invent many unique dresses and shirts thanks to the sewing skills of my Pakistani tailor.
  • Sleep on the floor of the hut of unknown Thai mountain villagers.
  • Buy a beautiful and unique piece of embroidery in Thailand that the embroiderer consented to sell only because I was married.
  • Eat in bamboo plates from bamboo dishes with bamboo chopsticks that had all been carved in front of my eyes a few minutes before the meal.
  • Taste savory dishes of curly-haired pig during the Mangalica festival in Budapest.
  • Celebrate Valentine’s day in Bosnia (usually more synonym of war than love unfortunately).
  • Visit an exhibition in total darkness, led by a blind guide and experience like a blind person what life is like, dinner included.
  • Hike to the top of Mount Triglav, the highest mountain of Slovenia at 2864 meters (9,400 feet).
  • Eat foie gras in a special ‘Magyar’ McDonald burger, the libamajjal, where liba means goose, maj liver and the –al suffix with.
  • Climb a Via Ferrata for the first time in my life: the steep via Ferrata Hans-von-Haid-Steig trail to reach Mount Rax in Styria, Austria at 2 000 meters.
  • Learn a few words of Chinese because I am working as a TDYer in Beijing, China, in the middle of the summer – yet the weather is not as hot as in Budapest or Paris.

Some friends tell me ‘I didn’t know you were doing these kinds of thing’ and I answer ‘me neither’!

Pakistan – Islamabad Particularities: Green & Safe

I had read that Islamabad was the greenest city in Asia. Indeed, it almost felt like Northern Europe! Maybe it is one of the reasons I liked it so much there. I come from Paris which is a very green capital and France, also a very green country. In my street and all the streets of my neighborhood F7 there were trees and flowers. Less than a kilometer away there was the National Park of the Margalla Hills– we would hike every week in the hills and we still miss them a lot. I had never lived so close to nature and wilderness. We saw monkeys and boars besides beautiful birds in these rocky hills.

Islamabad has a very mathematical way of dividing its square neighborhoods because it is a very modern city, planned and built in the 1960s and settled only in the 1970s next to its much older sister city Rawalpindi. In the tiny village of Saidpur, between Islamabad and the hills, there is a very interesting photo exhibit showing Islamabad before it was developed. When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Karachi was its capital. Planners have named the neighborhoods in Islamabad by letters from E to I – why not start by A is beyond me – and numbers from 5 to 18 – again, why not start at 1??? After 11 all the letters do not exist because it is still inhabited. Each square is divided into four smaller squares. When you gave your address it felt like playing naval battle: “I live in F7-2, one block from F8-3 … sunk!” Beyond Constitution Avenue, towards the north east, the area could be number 4, it comprises most of the public buildings: presidential palace, parliament, court of justice, etc. Beyond this, which could be number 3, is the diplomatic enclave, a little Fort Knox for embassies.

What is definitely a specificity of the Pakistani capital that I had never experienced before are the road blocks on every major roads: security check points that make cars zigzag and stop, show papers or car plate to a police officer, get approved and go on. It is like a permanent war and indeed when you think about it, the Taliban are definitely having a war. Someone had said something like ‘most countries have an army – the Pakistani army has a country’. While in Senegal everyone had diplomatic plates displayed where car plates are supposed to and Senegalese knew all the numbers by heart – number one for France, number eight for the United States and so on – here the plates are unmarked and it is not until arriving at a check point or entering the diplomatic enclave that the driver places the red diplomatic plate on the windshield, and promptly hides it again. Diplomats are targets.

Another very Pakistani specialty is the No Objection Certificate (NOC). Whenever we wanted to go anywhere outside the city boundaries, past I18, we had to receive a NOC first. The government had to issue a certificate stating that it did not object to our visit somewhere. We had to fill a bunch of papers explaining where we wanted to go and how, whether it was for a tourist or business purpose. If we rented a car we had to list the plate number and if we had a driver he had to give copy of his papers as well so if you had to fill the papers a month before the trip and he got sick, you were out of luck! Or if the listed car got in an accident prior to your rental and the rental company changed it … Indeed where it got complicated is that there were a NOC for ‘open’ places and a NOC for ‘closed’ places. The ruins of Taxila are ‘open’ so the NOC needed to be requested only 48 hours in advance; however the Murree brewery is a ‘closed’ place, so the NOC papers had to be processed at least 15 days in advance.

And yes there is a brewery which makes beer in a Muslim country, and whiskey, vodka, gin, etc.

Pakistan – Discovering our New Home in Islamabad

Choosing the Foreign Service, especially after a first career in the private sector usually means earning much less money – especially for the non-diplomat spouse. However you need to account for all elements of your earnings and they are not all cash in your pocket but cash you don’t need to take out of your pocket. For example children’s education in private international schools, some medical acts and interventions, or housing. Let’s focus on housing today.

When we are sent overseas housing is provided to us, usually in the best and safest area of the capital – or large cities in case of consultates. Depending on the country there is a choice between an apartment or a house, usually fairly large. Of course it all depends. In Africa or the Middle East your house will be, in general, much larger than in Europe. If you are a single person, you will usually be in an over sized apartment or house, if you have a family of four or six, depending on the country, you might be a bit cramped.

The motto of the Foreign Service – almost a mantra – is “it depends”. Despite the fact that the Foreign Service is governed by many rules summarized in the Foreign Affairs Manual and the Foreign Affairs Handbook, known respectively as the FAM and the FAH, in many areas when you ask a question, the answer is the ominous and predictable “it depends”. This is one of the very first thing to learn, the second being “it shall pass” to overcome any difficult or uncomfortable situation.

We had a large house in Senegal (four bedrooms, an office, a family room, a huge living room and a dining room) with a nice garden in an area near the school and the Embassy club with a swimming pool. The commute was under half an hour. Some colleagues were in large apartments on the third floor without elevator of a modern building with a much longer commute and no garden – not as nice.

We had a much smaller apartment in Mexico City (only three bedrooms which meant none for guests since we have two children, no office) but it was a trade-off for our children to have a 10-minute walk to school and us a half-an-hour commute versus having a house with a one-hour commute for parents and children alike.

The situation in Pakistan is diverse: live on the Embassy compound or outside and if outside live alone in a house or share a house between two or three families. It depends on your job, your rank, a bit of luck and especially your date of arrival.

We discovered our new house in Islamabad in the wee hours of the night – or very early morning since it was about 3:00 am. Even if not completely awake, we could tell it was a very large house with a garden, and it was all for us! A large lobby with marble floors and checkerboard patterns in the center leading to living room, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom, and stairs up and down. The railing of the staircase was made of black wrought iron and golden oak leaves. Downstairs there was a large L-shaped room, unfurnished but tiled, perfect for parties. Upstairs there were three bedrooms and their respective bathrooms, all different: grey, beige, blue.

Let’s go back to the ground floor. The kitchen had a triangular shape and all cupboards were salmon pink – all 26 of them! Sounds obvious? Not so much since in Senegal we had three different styles (white plastic, clear wood, dark wood) in the kitchen. 26 cupboards and not a single drawer. I thought it was a Pakistani specialty but all our colleagues had drawers in their kitchen so it was only our landlord who didn’t think about it. And there was no shelves in the lower cupboards so pots would be de facto on the floor. The higher cupboards were mounted so high that I could not see inside (and I’m 5’6), I had to touch and recognize if it was a knife or a fork…remember no drawers so where do you place your silverware?

From the kitchen we could go to the back garden after opening four bolts, one lock and a locked mosquito door. The tiny window of the kitchen was decorated with bars and the view from it was barbed wire… Next to it was the master bedroom but our colleague explained that we could not use it! This is Pakistan and it was not safe to sleep on the ground floor, we had to adopt the bedroom upstairs which had been transformed into Fort Knox with an armored door, zillion bolts, bars and locks and we had to keep at all times two massive water containers in case we had to find refuge in our bedroom for a lapse of time. The interior was lovely, cream-eggshell walls with white moldings on the high ceiling.

As a side note for those of you not in the Foreign Service, we usually have all our walls painted ONLY white. If you wish to paint them just cream, not even purple, you do so at your own expense (until then why not) but then you have to re-paint them white before your departure – even if the colleague after you would love to inherit cream instead of white!

The fourth level of the house was very small inside; it is where they had installed the washing machine and the dryer. This room gave access to the flat roof-terrace from which we had fantastic views on the Margalla hills.

My jobs in the Foreign Service – Part IV – Islamabad

About family employment, this link http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c1959.htm will lead you to information far more complete than anything I can say. I just want to bring some personal touches beyond the statistics. See Parts I, II and III for a full picture.

After learning in Virginia, working for the Commercial Service in Dakar, the Department of State in Dakar and Mexico, Narcotics in Mexico, I joined USAID in Pakistan. For a curious person like me, avid to learn every day more and more, joining yet a different agency was thrilling.

When diplomats are deployed to sensitive countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, the family either cannot or doesn’t want to follow. If the children are young chances are that the remaining spouse will stay in the U.S. with them. Even without children some spouses just don’t want to move to certain countries. If the spouse does want to follow they have to work full time, this way they are protected inside the Embassy at least 40 hours instead of being in the streets.

When my husband received his orders for Pakistan, the kids decided that they wanted to go to boarding school and I would try to follow my husband. I immediately applied for jobs, got interviewed and was offered a very interesting position as Grants Administrator for small grants and ambassador’s grants within USAID. Small meant $70,000 to $250,000 as opposed to my colleagues working on million-dollar deals in Energy or Health. Big deals can take years to see the light and a normal tour here is one year. With my ‘small’ grants I could see, feel and touch the projects. I could meet the impacted people, and it was deeply moving.

We approved projects to build a classroom or renovate a school, to build and furnish a library, to bring water to villages, electricity to homes, to teach women how to make preserves to become bread-winners, to install composting devices, to operate poor women from blindness to full sight. In Pakistan 85% of blind persons can see again with a surgery that costs less than $100! This is mind blowing.

My first boss took me on a trip to Karachi within my first two months. I immediately met the people managing the grants and the people benefiting from them. It tremendously helped me understand the impact of my job when I got back to my daily routine.

The difference was striking between what we read in the press about the ‘bad Americans and their forbidden drones’ and the spontaneous and generous welcome we received in the villages. Women used to walk everyday six miles – one way – to fetch water for their families and could only carry a gallon or two at best. We helped divert a clean river stream to bring water to the village. In another village there was no electricity which meant less time to work (sew, knit, or make baskets for example) or study, or worse: getting bitten by snakes when they went outside the perimeter of the huts and houses to do their bodily needs in the evening. I saw how they lived. Even the ‘rich’ ones with a concrete house rather than a wooden hut only had one single room to share. Less than 200 f2 for a family of 7 to 10. Mattresses were piled up high during the day and laid out at night. Life happened mostly outside the house. One old toothless lady called me her daughter and kept caressing my hand.

I was very touched when I was asked to plant my own tree to celebrate the end of a successful project. I was a drop in the ocean of that project but as a representative of USAID I was treated like royalty. Another teary moment was when I entered a class room and they activated the fan where they had laid rose petals on the blades.

In this job I was also involved with a Gender Equity Program and you can only imagine how busy this kind of activity is in Pakistan where fathers and brothers kill their daughters and sisters to ‘wash’ their honor…when husband throw acid at their wives’ face…

Chopped heads in Mexico were far from me; misery in Pakistan was awfully close. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time in Islamabad and met great Pakistani colleagues and vendors. We had more fun than we could have ever imagined. I’ll tell you later!

Next on EFM Employment: My jobs in Hungary (CLO and EPAP Green Coordinator).

First Day in Pakistan

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 – At two o’clock in the morning, one half-hour ahead of schedule, our plane landed in Islamabad. We immediately spotted our ‘facilitator’ – an unknown stranger to whom we entrusted our lives for the next hours…

Not that we are cowards – after all nobody ordered us to Pakistan, we chose it on our own, with eyes wide open – but for those of you who don’t read the press relative to this part of the world, let me summarize a bit so that you understand in which context we arrived in Pakistan.

2011 had been the annus horribilis of the relations between the United States and Pakistan. In January a certain Raymond Davis killed two civilians in Lahore and, while rescuing him, his American colleagues unintentionally killed a bicyclist. In May the Seals killed Ben Laden which lead the media to two embarrassing conclusions: either the Pakistani were accomplices or they were incompetent since Abottabad is pretty much in the suburbs of Islamabad, not exactly a remote place. Several other incidents followed and finally in November, NATO (therefore the U.S.) killed 24 civilians near Salala. Despite proofs that miscommunications were more numerous on the U.S. side, the president refused to apologize forgetting the need to save face in Asian cultures. Because of this it took us months to receive our visas.

More recently, two weeks prior to our arrival, on June 4th, 2012, U.S. drones killed 15 people – while Pakistan has forbidden the use of drones. The same day they managed to eliminate the number 2 of Al-Qaeda. June 6th kamikaze Talibans activated 3 bombs killing 22 people. June 7th a bomb blasted in front of a school in Quetta, Baluchistan (South West) killing 15 people. June 8th, near Peshawar (North West), a bomb killed 18 government workers. Following a speech by Leon Panetta, the press wrote on June 10th ‘The United States and Pakistan are growing as stronger enemies day after day.’

As we were gently directed to the long queue for ‘foreign diplomats’, a second facilitator lead us to yet an even faster queue. We collected our luggage and pet quickly, and jumped in an armored car with such a large survival kit in the trunk that we had trouble fitting all our luggage. It was still dark so I did not see much of the road from the airport to the house.

We arrived at our house hidden behind a large metal door, guarded by a Pakistani guard armed with a Kalashnikov. High walls and barbed wires everywhere. That’s what I call a welcoming house!

Roughly speaking the house was about 190m2 (2,000 ft2), distributed on four levels, two large main floors, a lower small floor and an upper small floor for laundry and access to the terrace. At 4:30 am the sun started to rise as we discovered that we had a tiny garden planted with zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, a small fig tree and a young orange tree.

We unpacked as much as we could until exhaustion wiped us from 6:00 am to 9:00 am. Then we were driven to our gigantic Embassy compound in the Diplomatic Enclave, checked in with general services (GSO), the community liaison coordinator (CLO) and human resources (HRO). We had a quick lunch, visited our respective sections and were brought back in our neighborhood for basic food shopping

Home by 5:00 pm, sound asleep by 7:00 pm. This concluded our first day in Pakistan where we stayed one thrilling year (details to come).

Three Days to Pakistan …

In hours it did not take us 72 hours to reach Pakistan but date wise, our journey spanned three days. When one grows up in the Western world, one doesn’t dream to make Pakistan their home, especially not after 9/11, but one day you join the Foreign Service and the next thing you know you have a one-way ticket to Islamabad.

Sunday, June 17th – That day in 1885, the ship Isère delivered the Statue of Liberty to New York City. France should ask for royalties: what would New York be without this statue? And this day in 1963 the Supreme Court voted to abolish Bible reading in public schools in the United States. But for us, June 17th is when we took our first flight to Pakistan. One day I’ll tell what crooked path led us to choose this mission.

We had to check out of the hotel at noon. In order to pass the time we went to the pool, then to the movies, and then it was finally time to go to the airport to start a new adventure. We have to fly American companies, or companies which have a code-share with American companies. It happens that United Airlines is paired with Qatar Airlines, which was great for us because Qatar is one of the best companies in the Middle East.

We chose the smallest Italian greyhound of the litter so that she would always travel in-cabin with us. Except that Qatar doesn’t accept any pet in-cabin, of any size. Except falcons. Falcons are not pets though, they are emirs’ best friends. Who wants to lose the emirs’ business?

So for the first time of her life, poor minuscule Venus was in a crate and I was even more worried than her when I handed the crate to the special pet staff. What if she doesn’t make the second flight? What if they forget to feed her, give her water? We are finally all in the plane. The flight attendant checked – or not, but then she lies well!

Monday, June 18th – In Western India, a father angry with his daughter for her ‘shameful’ (in his eyes) attitude beheaded her with a sword and showed her head to people in his village. She was 20 years old. Are we really going to live next door?

When we travel we promptly set our watches to the destination country. On this basis, we were served dinner at 7:00 am and breakfast at 4:30 pm. We arrived in Doha at 6:25 pm. 40 degrees Celsius (104F)! When I travel I like to wear comfortable velvet pants. At this temperature though velvet becomes very uncomfortable and sticky. Qatar is a tiny country, a little peninsula in the Persian Gulf, home to only 1.7 million people, yet it has a first-class airline. The Doha airport is very modern but they have already planned a brand new airport for the year to come. Oddly there are no signs in Arabic, everything is written in English.

There was a time, just the year in which my husband became a diplomat, where any one assigned to a new mission that required over 14 hours of travel would benefit from a business class ticket. Knowing that we need to work immediately upon arrival, it seemed reasonable to allow us to sleep. Congress believes that diplomats are spoiled brats so it decided otherwise in 2006. Nowadays, whatever the grueling length of the flight, we must take the economy class. Productivity is so overrated!

We took off at 11:40 pm.

Tuesday, June 19 – At two o’clock in the morning the captain announced that it was already 27 degrees Celsius (81F) in Islamabad. A half-hour ahead of schedule, our plane landed on Pakistani soil. We descended on the tarmac and immediately spotted our ‘facilitator’ – an unknown stranger to whom we entrusted our lives for the next hours.

Life in Pakistan to be continued …

So many addresses …

I had promised to count the exact number of physical addresses I have lived in so far. I had mentioned making a comparison between home number 17 and number 21. My husband has reached 27 actually. Not me. No such “luck”. I have only lived in 16 houses but since 8 of them happened in only 7 years… I got carried away!

Seven years ago I joined my husband starting his second career. We lived in a small apartment in Virginia which was house number 9 for me and number 20 for him. We had to learn the different neighborhoods to pick the right one for school purposes. After three months there we found a little brick house (#10) in a great neighborhood with very good schools and fantastic neighbors. It was my first time living in the United States for real (I had had summer jobs in Florida when I was a student) and it felt unreal, like in a movie from the 1950s. Kids running, playing in the street, basketball, hide and seek, no worrying parents. Neighbors bringing you welcome carrot cakes and chocolate chip cookies. One day my son came back, amazed, from his new friend’s house describing how the cookies were in a glass jar because the mom had cooked them herself – shame on me buying them at the supermarket! Christmas caroling from house to house.  Sycamores in the fall.

Alas less than a year later we were assigned to our first tour overseas. I say alas because we were leaving our fantastic neighbors but we were obviously also happy to finally start our big adventure. We landed in West Africa and a huge white house welcomed us (#11). White outside, white inside floors, walls, ceilings. No cookies from neighbors here but the call of the muezzin five times a day and a stray dog who adopted us, named Roxy by my daughter. Senegal is a francophone country so it was very easy for us to settle and we welcomed the warmer climate.

After two years we came back to the United States and lived in Arizona (#12) a few months before our next assignment to Mexico City (#13). We lived in an apartment because the choice was an apartment in the Polanco area (my favorite place in the city) or a house in the hills, which meant horrendous commute and much colder weather. After almost two years in Mexico we moved to the greenest city of this part of the world: Islamabad (#14). It is funny how you don’t grow up fantasizing about making Pakistan your home country … and yet we had a great time there, much better than anticipated.

After one year in Islamabad we moved to Budapest in a nice house (#15) but for technical reasons we had to move again after six weeks and finally settle in house #16.

I now need to explain why I wrote physical address and not just address, why each time we move we are actually juggling with seven snail-mail addresses!!!

1 – our permanent address in the United States (use for banking & retirement)

2 – our permanent address in France (use for banking & retirement)

3 – our official address in Washington (use for official mail)

4 – our personal address in Dulles (use for online shopping with sites who refuse to ship to DPO)

5 – our DPO address in the U.S. (the most used for online shopping)

6 – our address at the Embassy (our official response when asked where we live; also for invoices for example)

7 – our real address (we only give it to friends and the school shuttle)

Yes, you need to be organized when you become a Foreign Service Officer.