Sunday, November 24, 2013

Best laid plans

So...I owe you all a blog post or four.  Where did we last leave off in this silly farce that is mine and Nick's life in the Foreign Service?

Right, the US Government had just extended the evacuation again at the end of August.  Well, they did it again at the end of September; I told my bosses I'd stay until at least December 1.  And then the US Government extended the order again at the end of October; I told my bosses I'd stay until the end of January. And then, just one week after that fifth extension, the US Government lifted the evacuation order.

Yay!  And also Ugh, with a healthy does of Really?!

From the very beginning of this crazy saga, the timing of each development couldn't have been more ridiculous, which is why I've decided that we're living a farce.  For example, I've been living in NYC for two years, during which time the Egyptian people/government/military could have had themselves as many revolutions of significant size to force the evacuation of US diplomatic personnel as they liked.  But, nope, they did it just as I'm preparing to move to Cairo, throwing Nick and me headlong into five months of living in limbo and forcing us to scrap all of our carefully laid plans.

And then the US Government went and lifted the evacuation order ONE WEEK after extending it for another "30 days" -- one week after Nick and I made the decision that I would stay in NYC until his home leave in January, and one week after I'd already told everyone in NYC that they get to keep me around for another few months.  So Nick and I found ourselves having the "does Liz stay or does Liz go" discussion all over again.

And of course this all just happened to occur around the time of Nick's home leave.  First, a little explanation for those faithful readers not in the foreign service biz:  in order to bring his first two-year tour in Cairo to a close and commence his second tour, in mid-January Nick must return to (and stay in) the US for 20 business days.  And in order for me to be eligible to travel (on the government's dime) with him from Cairo to the US and back during his home leave, I'm required to have been living in Cairo for at least 30 days before departure.

This is why we had to push my departure date all the way back to February when the evacuation order was extended at the end of October.  With the evacuation supposedly lasting until the end of November, and with my promise to my job that I'd give them six weeks notice of my departure date, there was no way for me to make it to Cairo by the 30-day deadline (December 12).  And so Nick and I were forced to accept the fact that we'd be separated until at least February...maybe longer.

And then, just one week later, the government went and changed its mind about extending the evacuation order through November, and Nick and I were forced to re-examine the question of my departure date.  Should I give notice immediately and rush to get my butt to Cairo by December 12?  Should I pursue a more leisurely schedule -- say, arrive in Cairo around Christmas -- and then just pay out-of-pocket to travel to the US with Nick a few weeks later?  Or should we just leave me in NYC for Nick to collect during his home leave?  Luckily Nick is a good decider (unlike yours truly), and he quickly and mostly painlessly made the decision that I should stay until February.  His only request was that I come to Cairo for the holidays.  So in the end I'll be flying to Cairo on December 21, returning to NYC on January 3, moving out of my apartment on January 31, and then moving to Cairo for good on February 19.

If this saga sounds like it's been a lot to deal with -- a lot of dates, a lot of variables, a lot of decisions, a lot of planning and a lot of canceled plans -- well, yeah, it has been.  I am so very, very tired of this saga.  At least now the end is in sight.  Fingers crossed it stays that way.

And I haven't even mentioned the saga of the US Government and those evacuation payments I mentioned in my previous blog post, or the saga of the US Government and Nick's attempts to become a tenured foreign service officer.  But I think I've whined enough for one blog post; gotta save some complaints for later.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Waiting Room

At the end of August, the US government extended the evacuation for another 30 days, which means I'll be staying in NYC until at least November 1. The Powers That Be won't reevaluate the situation until the end of September, so Nick and I find ourselves in the middle of another cycle of waiting.  However, there are some new developments that make this cycle a little different from the previous two.

First, I'm starting to lose faith that I will ever be allowed to go to Egypt, given the current situation in Egypt and Syria.  Cairo had its first car/suicide bombing in years, just to add to the fun cornucopia of ongoing political repression and street violence.

Second, because I was supposed to move to Cairo this month, the US government now considers me to be an evacuated adult dependent...without actually being an evacuee.  As a result, this month I'll start receiving the same per diem as the USAID officers and family members who actually did evacuate Cairo.  I find this to be very funny, but also just a little bit weird.

Actually, the whole situation that Nick and I find ourselves in is weird.  I mean, on the surface really nothing in our lives has changed as a result of the evacuation.  Nick is still in Cairo, just as he's been for the past 18 months.  I'm still in NYC, just as I've been for the past two years.  Our day-to-day lives are pretty much the same as they've been since Nick left.

And yet, to me it feels like our lives are being turned upside down. As a bit of  a compulsive planner, I find it very difficult to cope with the uncertainty of living month-to-month, and there are days when I can feel the uncertainty fraying my nerves.  I stew over the fact that we had a plan laid out for the first 3 or 4 months after I moved to Cairo, but now that plan is just gone and we can't replace it with a new plan.  I do not like not having a plan.  Sometimes I am overwhelmed by sadness over how much of each other's lives we are missing out on, how many shared experiences we're not having.  I already worry that at the end of our lives I will regret spending these past two years apart, and now I feel the weight of every extra day of separation the evacuation forces upon us.

I hate to end this post on such a whiny note, because really Nick and I are quite fortunate compared to other evacuated staff.  I didn't have to evacuate Cairo solo with a passel of kids.  We're not dealing with trying to find temporary housing in the DC area while registering said passel of kids at temporary schools.  We're not trying to make sure that the home/vehicle/pet we left behind in Cairo is being taken care of.  We're not moving to our next post without any of our belongings because our assignment in Cairo expired during the evacuation and we can't go back to manage a packout.  Like I said at the beginning of the post, the impact of the evacuation on our daily lives is really quite small.

But the impacts are there, whether on the surface or underneath or just in my mind, and they are growing every day.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Over it

I meant to write this post much, much earlier, but I didn't know what to say.

On July 26 -- the eve of the deadline for the US government to decide whether to extend or lift the evacuation order -- Egyptian security forces opened fire on pro-Morsi supporters, leaving 72 people dead.  On July 28 the US government extended the evacuation for another month, keeping me in the US until at least October 4 and causing Nick to miss our trip to visit Sister J for her birthday and a much-anticipated Mumford & Sons concert.

This week, fighting between security forces and Islamists and vigilantes and armed gangs of thugs and Cairo residents took the lives of more than 900 people.  Some of the dead martyred themselves.  Others, including at least 3 journalists, were doing their jobs.  Some were innocent victims and some of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I am over this.  And by "this" I don't mean being in a long-distance marriage, or the uncertainty of living month-to-month waiting for the evacuation order to be lifted (although Nick and I are both SO OVER THESE THINGS).  By "this" I mean hate and violence.  Of neighbor killing neighbor.  Of scenes of men walking into gunfire just to leave behind a body for their comrades in arms to carry through the streets as proof that their side are the victims and the other guys are the real villains.  Of scenes of Egyptians killing Egyptians, whether in rage or self-defense or because it's just their job.  Of images of a once vibrant and bustling city now under the grip of urban warfare.

I try not to look at the cellphone photos and videos captured by people in the thick  of the violence.  But these images are on Twitter and the Huffington Post and the New York Times, and I can't not look. I try not to think about the fact that the evacuation order will probably be extended again at the the end of August, which would mean that Nick and I won't be reunited until November.

I try to focus on and be grateful for the fact that Nick is safe and sound and probably at less risk in Cairo than when we were in Kabul, where the violence was directed at us and we occasionally woke up to the sound of incoming mortar shells.  I try to perfect my "I'm ok, he's ok, everything is ok" foreign service spouse smile, and to devise compelling reassurances to repeat to everyone who (very kindly) asks how he's doing.  I concentrate on my job and on working out and try to ensure that I have a full social calendar (or at least get out of the house) so that I don't spend all day scouring Twitter for the latest updates on what's happening on the ground.

I will hang in there.  I will be tough and patient.  Nick and I will daydream about the trips we'll take once I join him in Egypt, and about the nonstop travelling we'll do to visit all of our family during home leave.  I will tell Nick every day how much I love and miss him.

I will have faith that this too shall pass.  And I will think thoughts of peace and safety for Nick, for our Egyptian friends, and for everyone we know everywhere.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Days & days & days

The waiting.  It is hard.

You can all read the news, and I've got nothing new to report on the situation that isn't in the press.  Nick is working Kabul-esque hours, I'm trying my best to be patient, and we're both anxious to start making decisions about what we do next.  But we can't make any decisions until we know whether the evacuation will be over at the end of July, or if it will be extended for another 30 days.  So all Nick and I can do right now is wait until the US government reassesses the security situation in Cairo, which it won't do for another week or so.

Dear Time,

Please go a little faster.  Patience is not one of my virtues.

Love, Me

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Between a rock & a hard place

I wish I had something new or interesting to report, but unfortunately I don't.  Nick remains in Cairo, even as Egypt descended into a close approximation of chaos on Friday, with 36 people killed in clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi groups and the military.  The past two days have been quieter, although I guess there are some protests flaring up again as I type.  The US government still hasn't figured out its position on recent events, Nick is still waiting for instructions from Washington, and I'm still losing my damn mind over the fact that my husband is stuck in country that is tearing itself apart and that I just don't know if I'm going to Cairo or not.  

Honestly, up until this point the protests haven't really caused me to worry too much about Nick's safety, because they haven't been directed at Americans.  Unlike when we were in Kabul, where Americans were definitely targets, it's seemed to me that the real risk of being an American in Cairo  was the chance of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting caught in the middle of what's essentially a civil (religious?) war.

But now that Morsi is out, it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberals are both looking for a scapegoat additional enemies to attack, and they've both set their sights on the US. The liberals dislike the US for recognizing/supporting Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood dislike the US for not preventing his removal from office.  And unfortunately they do have a point, as Morsi was voted into office by democratic and fair-ish elections.  There's a better explanation here Anti-Americanism flares in Egypt as protests rage over Morsi's ouster.  To sum it all up:  "It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't quagmire in which the US appears to have alienated both sides, underscoring waning American influence and credibility as it attempts to navigate the turmoil."

So now I start to worry. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Further reading

Just a quick post to let everyone know that the New York Times  has a good article outlining the conundrum the US government faces in deciding what to do with the $1.5 billion in foreign assistance it planned to provide to Egypt, aka the reason Nick is still stuck in Cairo.


So, as you've all probably heard by now, some stuff went down in Egypt on Wednesday.  A military coup?  A democratic revolution? The answer depends on who you ask.

But whatever you call it, all it took for the US government to pull the ripcord and turn the voluntary evacuation into an ordered evacuation was the sight of military vehicles on the streets of Cairo.  All nonessential US diplomatic personnel are now departing the country, leaving behind a core group to tend to the $1.5 billion in foreign assistance* the US currently provides to Egypt...and Nick is part of that core group.

Thus, today finds him still in Cairo, one of the last men standing, confined to chilling in our apartment until given further instruction.  He is safe, if not just a bit stir crazy.  Our neighborhood of Ma'adi remains mostly quiet, and our apartment complex remains walled and guarded.  We don't know when or even if he'll be sent home, and we still don't know whether or how this affects my joining him in Cairo in September.  Evacuations of US government employees are conducted on 30 day cycles, so the current evacuation will last until August 3rd or so.  At that time the US government will evaluate whether the country is stable enough to allow staff and their families to return.  If the government decides Egypt is still too dangerous, diplomatic personnel will be out for another 30 days..and now we're into early September.

I'll be honest and confess that I am making contingency plans in my head, just in case I'm not allowed to go to Cairo on September 10th: rescind my notice at work, try to get my landlord to let me go to a month to month lease, etc.  There are just so many pieces to this puzzle, and neither Nick nor I have control over most of them.

What I wouldn't give for the gift of foresight right now...

*Only $172 million is economic/development assistance; the rest is military.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Watchful waiting

For those of you who are still following this blog in spite of the long gaps between posts, here's a quick update on Nick and the situation in Egypt.

First things first...he's safe.  He is still at post, and is likely to remain there for a while.  Washington is watching the situation very closely, and is taking steps to secure the safety of US diplomatic staff.  As I mentioned in this previous blog post, our walled-and-guarded apartment complex and Nick's office are a bit removed from Tahrir Square, the locus of most of the violence.  Moreover, as one of the last program officers remaining at the USAID mission (due to turnover prior to the recent unrest, not from evacuations), Nick is rather essential to the mission's operations.  So for the time being he will remain at post.

Second things second....I've been asked a few times about whether this affects my plans to join Nick in Cairo in September.  The only answer I can give is that we just don't know yet.  We had just started the process of getting me to post -- securing my medical clearance, obtaining visas, etc --  when this all began.  For the time being we are proceeding as if this will all blow over and I will have no problem joining Nick in Cairo some time on/around September 10th.  If the situation deteriorates further or if Nick is evacuated...well, then he and I will have a chat and figure out what we do next.  But we'll cross that bridge if/when we get to it.

So for the time being we're sort of in a holding pattern, watching and waiting to see how the next 48-72 hours turn out. Limbo.  People have asked me how I'm handling the situation, and the only thing I can do is remind myself that this is beyond my control.  It's the military vs Morsi vs the people.  All Nick and I can do is ride the wave and wait for an outcome.