Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the road again

Oh Bolt Bus, you and I are going to become fast friends over the next several months, I can tell. Except for when the power outlets in the bus seats aren't working. Like now. Then I will hate you.

Some of you may be wondering what I did to keep myself busy in the weeks between our arrival in the states and the start of my transient NY/DC life. Well, other than unpacking, setting up our DC apartment, and finding NYC housing for myself, I kept myself busy by sorting and organizing all of our digital photos.

This was no easy task. We have literally thousands of photos, stored in a random manner across two laptops, one desktop, one netbook, and an external hard drive. I spent hours installing Picasa on all of those computers, hunting down the files, and sorting them into somewhat organized albums.

So, I now proudly present Nick and Liz's Australia Adventure.

Links to our other vacation albums will be posted as I finish adding captions to the photos. Unfortunately I can't post links to any of our "Life in Kabul" albums, because of security concerns. But if you're a friend or family member whom I see in person, the next time I visit you can ask me to play the slideshow for you.

And with that, my computer is out of juice. It's going to be a long, boring bus ride.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Home Sweet Home, minus one thing

When we last left our intrepid heroine, one week ago, she found herself on a bus bound for New York, full of hope, energy and confidence, and ready to hit the streets to find her very own Big Apple apartment.

Where is she now? Back on the bus -- DC bound this time -- cynical, worn out, a little nauseous, and the proud owner of two very VERY tired feet.

And also the proud tenant of a lovely second floor, 1 bedroom walk up in the East Village.

My new home-ish, slightly edited to protect my privacy. Although knowledgeable New Yorkers who read this blog might be able to find the building based on this picture.

The ink on the lease is still wet.

It took a lot of hitting the pavement, hitting the internets, schlepping around the UES to the LES to Midtown and back again to find this gem. The rent is more than I wanted to spend, but once I walked in the apartment I just couldn't walk away. It had everything I needed: space enough for my bed, a big desk, and a pullout couch for all the guests I expect to crash with me (gotta pay it back for all of the couchsurfing I've done with NYC friends over the years). Space in the apartment to store my bike and stairs wide enough for me to carry it up and down easily. A kitchen with enough counter space for a drying rack and work area. I knew I was home.

Well, home-ish. One thing was missing: Nick. This apartment, as much as I love it, will never really be home because it will never be "our" home. Home is where Nick and I live together. This will just be my NYC basecamp. I won't really be "home" until I join Nick in Cairo in 2013.

Yes, I could have spent less money for a hole in the wall in the East Village, or the same amount for a bigger space elsewhere in the city. But the East Village has been, and I think always will be, one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. Although, I haven't lived there yet. One year from now I may be singing a very different tune. But for now, I love it. I love the artists/punks /freaks/ravers/hippies who have long called the neighborhood home, the old Ukrainian immigrants who saw the neighborhood through its rougher days and who sell -- my landlord included -- some of the best meats and baked goods in the city, the small bars and coffee shops that I will soon call my study spots, Tompkins Square park, the relatively low presence of tourists...all of it. The fact that I am only 2 blocks from a subway, a 5 minute bike ride (or 15 minute walk) from my classes, and right in the middle of the downtown theater world (handy for future internships) only sweeten the deal.

So now I'm heading back to DC to spend some quality time with my wonderful, generous, amazing husband -- who, let's be honest, is essentially bankrolling this whole adventure -- and to concentrate on the real reason I'm moving to New York: school. This isn't about fulfilling some teenage dream of living in the Big Apple. This is about getting a graduate degree in field I love from a prestigious university located in the performing arts capitol of the world. I'm going to give it everything I've got.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

End, Middle, Beginning

The End
With our home leave over and done, with the last box unpacked, and with many of our Kabul friends now safely moved on to their next posts, I finally feel like we are officially finished with Kabul.

It's a weird feeling. I look back at photos from our time at post (and I've been looking at A LOT of photos, as one of my summer tasks was to organize all of our digital photo storage. Picasa and I are rather intimately acquainted now.) and I feel a strange sense of disconnect from the Nick and Liz in the pictures. The sensation is very difficult to describe and I can't really do it justice here. Let's just say that I'm still processing how I felt while there, and how I feel about it all now.

The end of our home leave came all too fast. This being our first home leave experience, we learned a few lessons about how to plan future home leaves.

Before I get into it, let me say FAMILIES X AND M WE LOVE YOU AND WE HAD A FANTASTIC TIME VISITING WITH ALL OF YOU. Please don't take any of this personally; it's not you, it's us.

From the time we landed in the US (June 12) to the time Nick started language (July 5) we were BUSY. We did 3 days in DC, then 10 days vising family X in three different cities. We came back to DC on the 27th, moved stuff out of my personal storage locker into our new apartment on the 28th, did our high stress outbrief on the 29th, and family M arrived June 30th to visit for the July 4th holiday. Throw in a healthy dose of jet lag and culture shock mixed with a side of leftover Kabul stress, and you've got the perfect recipe for a very short-tempered Liz. By the time my family arrived in DC, I really wasn't my best self. I was short with them and non-communicative and generally annoyed at the inconvenience of coordinating the movements and meals of 5 people instead of 2. Plus it was stressful trying to balance being a good hostess with my urgent need to GET STUFF DONE before Nick started language training.

The lesson learned for future home leaves -- especially home leaves that see us staying in the states for a while (ie for language training or when Nick is coming back to a post in DC) -- is that it's probably best if we give ourselves a little bit more time to adjust before we head out for family reunions. It's not fair to subject our families to less-than-pleasant versions of ourselves, Taking a bit more time to time to catch our breath, get some sleep, and make at least a little progress on getting settled in our new routine should make it better for everyone.

The other lesson is that it's better if we visit with our families in their towns, rather than bringing them to DC. There were very few items on our "to do" list that I could check off while in Nashville/Naperville/Lansing visiting Family X, which meant that all I really had to do was be on vacation. But once we were back in DC with Family M to entertain, a "to do" list a mile long and not enough time to do it all, my stress levels went through the roof, my patience levels dropped to zero, and I found it difficult to enjoy Family M's visit.

So Parents and Sister M, please accept my sincerest apologies for acting like a whiny, short-tempered ass during your visit. I guess it's just one of those lessons about life in the foreign service that you don't learn until you live it.

The Middle
Nick's smack dab in the middle of Spanish language classes. Well...almost in the middle. Seven weeks down, 17 more to go. But you get my drift.

He's working so hard, doing so well, and I couldn't be more proud of him. If you're reading this blog and speak Spanish, please feel free to post your comments in Spanish. It'll be good practice for him. But please limit the subject of your questions to the following topics: where he works, where his next post is, where the Ambassador wants to sit at the meeting, and what forms one needs to fill out to apply for a tourist visa.

The Beginning
The most common question I've been asked over the past few months is "What are you going to do while Nick's posted in Kabul?" It's a good question, a fair question, and for the most part I tried to dodge the answer. Because the answer was big, and kind of scary, and only recently became a reality.

And that answer is....I'm not going to Cairo.

I'm going to NYU.

I'm actually typing this post while on the Bolt Bus from DC to NY. I have to start looking for a place to live.

Everyone stop panicking! I'll try to answer all of your questions. First, Nick and I are FINE. More than fine. We're great. He is being the most supportive, wonderful husband as I take this giant, EXPENSIVE first step on a new career path.

For the past 5.5 years I've been trying to convince myself that a career in international development is what I want. Because my head tells me it's a smart career to pursue. But my heart was never really in it. My time in Kabul pushed me over the edge and gave me the courage to finally stop trying to make the international development career fit. It just didn't.

So what is the new career path? Well, you're looking at a first year NYU grad student pursuing a masters degree in Performing Arts Administration. It's essentially a business degree (courses in marketing, accounting, leadership in organizations, etc) with a focus on performing arts institutions. It's a 2 year program. Theater has and always will be my number one passion. I've tried to deny that for the past 11 years, and I just can't deny it any more.

Nick and I don't know how this degree will fit in with our life in the foreign service. We'll figure that out as we go. But I do know that for the first time in a long time my head and my heart agree that this is the right move, even as my heart is breaking as I leave Nick behind in DC, and my head is consumed with an overwhelming sense of guilt that I'm being a bad wife.

On my way to the bus station, I texted Nick to say that going to NYU is the most selfish thing I have ever done. His response? "I brought you to Kabul, so we're even." I pointed out that even though I didn't really like being in Kabul, I still got something out of the experience, namely a nice salary and some fantastic trips. He gets nothing out of my going to NYU except an absent wife and the joy of watching me spend our hard earned savings on tuition and rent. His next comment melted my heart.

"You're wrong, I do get something out of you going to NYU: a wife who is happy because she is doing something she actually likes."

What a great guy.

And thus the start of my life as an NYU grad student. More to come soon. After all, this is only the beginning.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Slow news day at the Washington Post

I mean, if the Post really can't find something more important to report...

Cat fight at US Embassy in Kabul