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.


  1. Wow. You've been through a lot of decisions that require action and teamwork/support, but it sounds like your team is strong and you will both be better individually and together for it. Kudos for you both! And as far as what you can do with your degree once at posts - I'm sure that there are amazing opportunities awaiting you! You are brave and amazing and your hubby es increiblemente chevere! Rock it out you two!

  2. Significant and precious information!Very insightful and straightforward.