10K at 12K’ at 7W

AKA:

Go Big or Go Home??

>or<

Too Much Too Soon?

>or<

I’m a Sucker for a T-Shirt

>or, quite simply<

LOTS of Heavy Breathing

[WARNING: This post is about running. If that bores you, feel free to move on. However, this is mostly a walk (run) down (up) memory lane, with lots of shout outs to all the people who have journeyed with me along the way, for all these years, and all these miles.]

So my co-worker talked me into signing up for this 10K, and then like all good running partners, promptly left town. That left me running alone, just seven weeks into “living the high life”, with plenty of time to think about something other than running at 12,000 feet!

Most people would think I’m crazy for signing up to do something this ridiculous, and I wouldn’t argue with them. It was a foolhardy thing to do. But man oh man, it was a lot of fun. There’s nothing like seeing and experiencing a new city than running all over it.

Here we are at the start. I didn’t hear a single person speaking English in the entire crowd.

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Those wires you see overhead are the Teleferico. More on that in another blog post.

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I’m pretty nervous at this point, wondering what I’ve gotten myself into, knowing that I still get winded walking up a flight of stairs.

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And it turns out that running at altitude isn’t all that different from any other running–I’m still slow, and I still love it. I felt like I was flying on the downhills and like most of the people around me there in the front of the back of the pack, I mostly walked the uphills, of which there were plenty. And I did a lot of heavy breathing. And I thought a lot of distracting thoughts.

Here I am at the finish, winded but exhilarated for having made it, and none the worse for wear. You can see the city in the background, and imagine all the hills we ran up and down. We ended on a beautiful bridge high above the city, and the last hill we climbed to get to that bridge was the worst one of all, of course. Having that view of the mountains in the background all along the way was none too shabby, though.

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And here I am back at home. In all honesty, that was the biggest accomplishment of all. I left home not knowing how in the heck I’d return. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to find the correct bus, be brave enough to get in (it was my first time to get on a city bus alone), and actually find my way home again. Small victories. All for the t-shirt.

 

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And here are some of those distracting thoughts I thought along the way:

I started running in 1978. I don’t even remember why, but I remember what I wore (how crazy is that? It was a gray cotton sweatsuit), where I ran (Scott, Louisiana), and a lot about those first few steps. (I certainly couldn’t run a mile.)

And I’ve been running, on and off, ever since. It has been a huge part of my life and greatly influenced who I am today. I’m not very good at very many things, but I can definitely put one foot in front of another, and in fact, it turns out I can do it for a long time, although not very fast!

And I thought about all the people who have run some of those miles with me. Believe it or not, way back then, one of those people was Randy! We ran separate legs of a marathon relay for several years back in The Woodlands. And I ran the last six miles of the Houston marathon with my brother Benny, way back before I ever dreamed I could run one myself. (Oh, yeah, and there was that triathlon in Houston when I beat him. He likes to forget about that day.)

And I ran my first 10 mile race with my old friend, Cliff. That was the time that Megan yelled, “Hey, mom, you’re not last!” Obviously, I had thought I would be.

And all those long, precious, unforgettable miles I ran in Scotland with Carol and with Dana, in every kind of weather imaginable, in preparation for my first marathon.

And those many miles in Tomball with Marla, when I didn’t know anyone else who ran.

And those hot and sweaty miles in Houston, when I had this crazy idea that I could get faster if I worked harder, and all those wonderful running partners including the famous Dr. Bob, who paced me to my half-marathon PR, and Katie Adams, who made me come to Memorial Park with her when she had a first “date” with this guy who is now her husband and the father of her four children, and Jennifer, with whom we created “The Jennifer Way” running program, (‘start slow and then ease back’), and Anne Marie, who used to make me sprint in the middle of a long run, and Jana, who became a big marathon runner after I left, and Mary Brazelton, who paid forward kindness and ran the last six miles of my Houston Marathon PR with me, and oh so many other people who met me in the wee hours of many mornings to encourage me and share the road.

And even from time to time, Megan, who ran a 5k with me once, and Ian, who mercilessly makes fun of me saying I run lopsided (which is true), and Adam, with whom I ran one of my favorite races of all time: The Peachtree 10K in Atlanta. (Sadly, none of them developed the love of running I’d hoped.)

And then on to Denver where Meredith and Shelley introduced me to the parks and running in the snow, and where Shaunda patiently ran circles around me, and where Diana first discovered running (and was a natural and way faster than me) and where Lia discovered that she’s not in fact a runner, and where I returned the favor and ran Katie Haitz in to the finish of her first 26.2. And so so many other people.

I’m publishing this blog post about completing a 10K at 12k’, a feat I didn’t think possible this early in, not to brag about what I’ve accomplished, but rather, first to say thanks to so many people who encouraged me along the way, and with whom I shared many hours of deep conversation, but also, mainly to encourage you to step out and dare to do something you think might be out of your league. It might be running, or it might not be running or any other physical feat–it might be something entirely different, like going back to school and finally finishing that degree, as daunting as that might seem; or sticking with a frustrating employment situation and reaching deep down and finding the courage and wherewithal to make it better; or breaking out and pursuing a long held dream of a challenging new career; or digging in and fighting to preserve that relationship; or getting counselling to finally face those demons and defeat them; or finding the courage to reach out and forgive that person who hurt you so badly and never seemed forgivable; or even to be the one to ask for forgiveness.

If I could inspire even one person to tackle their unattainable, it would be worth every step I’ve ever run. It’s never too late to try something new, or different, or seemingly impossible. And the thrill of victory, in whatever way you define that for yourself, is oh so sweet.

 

 

 

 

Primeras Impresiones

Ah, first impressions. They must, by their very nature, be captured first. If delayed, they’ll be tainted with the lens of hindsight.

So many first impressions. Where do I begin?

But before I do begin, here’s a little shout out to our PCS (Permanent Change of Station) experience. It is never simple, easy, or cheap to fly internationally with a pet, and each experience has challenges of its own. (You may remember this fiasco.) And we had heard horror stories about this particular routing–people being stuck in Miami for days accused of having the wrong paperwork, and American Airlines’ complete unreasonableness. I entered the fray ready to fight–diplomatically, of course. :-)

And things couldn’t have gone more smoothly! Thanks to colleagues’ advice on Trailing Houses, our Foreign Service Facebook hive-mind (thanks, guys!), we booked two overnight flights to avoid the heat of the day when airlines won’t fly animals. We spent the day in Miami,

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boarded and deplaned both flights without drama, and voila! We landed at El Alto, the highest international airport in the world, with all our luggage and Quandary intact and were greeted by an embassy expeditor holding a placard with my name on it. Boom!

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Nuestra Senora de La Paz, our home for the next two years! And here are just a few of my many first impressions:

  • La Paz is beautiful!—Randy says it looks like southern Utah; I think it looks like the moon—not that I’ve been to the moon, but you know, what you’d expect the moon to look like.

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  • And it’s charming. Here’s a quick peek at a cholita, the ubiquitous indigenous female dressed in traditional garb:

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  • And it’s walkable. Here’s a view of our house (we hope to move in Tuesday), and I’m sitting in a coffee shop just a few blocks away, enjoying free Wi-Fi. San Miguel, our new neighborhood, is full of restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. We may not even need our car in the city!

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  • The air is dry. This means things dry quickly, hair doesn’t frizz, and there’s less fear of mold. Of course, that also means you get those awful little painful angular cracks at the corners of your toenails…and buy stock in hand lotion and vaseline.
  • The embassy is organized. Our check-in process was amazingly professional, efficient, and smooth. And the timing is not like Africa or what I’ve experienced in Central America. Meetings start and end on time. The shuttle arrives and leaves on the minute. No being late here. This is a tight ship. Incredible.
  • I love the shuttle. Who knew? I never would’ve guessed. It picks me up at my house at exactly the same minute every day and leaves the embassy exactly ten minutes after closing time. Need to stay a few minutes late and finish a project? No worries; you can just hail a taxi for about three bucks. No driving hassles. No parking hassles. I never would’ve guessed I’d like the shuttle, but so far, it’s been great!
  • The Health Unit is really well run. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am with admin staff. Admin staff! You have no idea. And the nurses are awesome too! I’ve been blessed beyond measure. And I’ve only been here a week!
  • Dr. Broyles is my soulmate. Dr. Broyles is an American-trained, American physician who works at the embassy one day a week. He also shares call. He is actually the only reason I bid on La Paz-I promised myself I would never be as isolated as I was in Buj. During our first day together, I shadowed him during patient visits so I could get a feel for his demeanor and style. I left the room for a minute and when I returned, I said a few words to the patient. Dr. Broyles looked at me with big, wide eyes, and said, “You’re scary.” Then he and the patient burst out laughing–he had just said the exact same words to the patient. Exact same words. Great minds think (and speak) alike! So very blessed.
  • NO ALTITUDE PROBLEMS!!! We had high hopes (pun intended) that the altitude wouldn’t kick our butts, and our expectations have been met! No headache, no insomnia, no fatigue. In fact…
  • I accidentally went hiking on Day Two. Because you know I have FOMO*, when someone invited me to go on a 1-2 hour hike the Saturday after we arrived, of course, I couldn’t decline. What’s a 1-2 hour hike? Five hours later, and several slopes we had to scoot down on our backsides, we made it home. And it was worth every minute of it!!

Here we are with Illimani in the background. You may remember this view from my contest announcement–it’s the eternally snow-covered peak viewable from most of La Paz.

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And the views from the top were, as always, worth the hike:

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We were looking for another route down. Peering over the cliff, we decided not to chose this one:

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And here we are scooting down this little slope, where one of our group wished we’d had ropes. And yeah, maybe we should’ve….

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The walk in and out through the dry river bed was amazing, but I sure wouldn’t want to be caught there in a flash flood!

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  • And the Public Affairs Section is super active. Of course, I jumped right in and worked the Public Affairs Section book fair on the second weekend. The theme was protecting the environment, including Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and the booth was made entirely from the crates US employees’ belongings arrive in. I thought my fellow FS folks would like that creative use of those ubiquitous crates!

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  • There are lots of stray dogs. Lots. Not all can be chocolate and roses, so there you have my one negative first impression. So far, we mostly ignore them, but I guess I’ll have to start walking and running with a stick. Yuck.

And there you have it! La Paz, my new home, my first impressions, mis primeras impresiones. Or at least a few of them!

We can’t wait for all of you to visit! So much to see! So much to do! Start planning your trip!

 

*FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out

It’s a Wrap

And just like that, in the blink of an eye, 25 months and 1 day (yes, I counted) are in the books.

All things considered, in the overall scheme of things, we’ll call the adventure a success. As Randy’s been known to say, it’s been a good life, after all.

Professionally, I escaped without a single life-threatening emergency medevac. No words can ever express how thankful I am for that. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all my people who kept themselves safe and healthy throughout. Even Chuckles managed to wait til he arrived in the US to break his leg! I still cannot believe my fortune.

AND I didn’t resign or curtail (cut short my commitment), although paperwork toward both those eventualities lived on my desk for some period of the last 12 months. We made it! And I have to admit I’m proud of that. It wasn’t always a given. (And to all my friends who did curtail, know that I supported you every step of the way in your decision.)

Personally, I fell in love with Africa. I suspected I might, and I did. I feel like I can really relate to all those people who arrive under varying circumstances and then find they cannot leave. It is a special place that defies description, at least, the tiny little corner of it that I experienced here in East Africa is.

And while I certainly can’t speak for Randy, I’ll go out on a limb and say this country has definitely crawled into his heart more than he expected.

Randy and I endured our separations due to back to back evacuations without long term negative consequences. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder maybe??)

And I made it those 765 days without a car accident. Not even a fender bender. (OK, maybe once I scraped the side of the gate, because, as my friend Chuck commented, the opening is only like 12 feel wide.) But with as much driving as I did (I was always the one up for a local adventure and ready to chauffeur), it is nothing short of a miracle. I am completely confident of God’s protection and grace from start to finish.

And now I depart with precious memories and treasured friends. And a little piece of my heart I’m leaving behind. Priceless.

Leaving is bittersweet, as it should be.

I know that moving around in the FS can never ever be compared to giving birth to a child, but recently I have read several people’s musings about how, when they were preparing for the birth of their second child, they couldn’t imagine how they could ever love another child as much as they loved their first. And of course they always do. Right now, as I look ahead to the future, I can’t imagine ever loving another country as much as I love this one.

But this I know: never again (never say never) will I have the incredible experience of a first tour, where every cell in your body is electrified with the newness, where everything is novel; everything exciting; everything memorable; and yes, everything devastatingly frightening.

As we sit in the airport, Quandary all checked in and hopefully settled, I’m in awe of the privilege we’ve had these past two years to stand alongside so many people, watching history unfold from a front row seat. I never want to repeat 2015, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

And I’m leaving with about two dozen kitenge dresses. I may never be able to wear solid colors again.

Next up: a series of latergrams from some adventures that were never recorded. And a few choice photo essays because I can’t figure out how to get photos off my phone into this post. At least, that’s my goal for the next couple of weeks while I’m resting and recuperating during our mandatory and well-earned Home Leave.

Happiness? Least Happy? Happiest??

Happiness. An elusive state for many. A difficult concept to define. So many variables.

If you ask the googles about happiness, you get “Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources.”

A bit vague, but there you have it, according to the googles. (Really, googles? “have striven” is terrible grammar.)

Recently (March 20th, to be exact) the world celebrated International Day of Happiness, created by the United Nations General Assembly a few years ago, to recognize the pursuit of happiness as a human right.

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In advance of the UN World Happiness Day, some folks published The World Happiness Report Update, which as you might guess, ranks countries by happiness.

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I’ll leave it to you to guess (or look up) the happiest country, but my purpose in mentioning the report has to do with the country ranked at the very other end of the scale: the least happiest.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, that ignominious honor goes to the country I currently call home: Burundi. As if we don’t have enough problems, what with political upheaval, tenuous security, continued violence, economic collapse, hunger, (I could go on and on), now they’re slapping us with saddest?? That feels like kicking a man when he’s down.

But here comes NPR to the rescue: publishing an article about what makes people smile in the saddest country in the world.

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And it’s true: it’s a testimony to their strength, their resiliency, and their family ties. Despite all the factors working against them, they still find reasons to smile, to hug, to love.

A bit closer to home, I, too, have reason to smile, to hug, to love. To be the happiest! In spite of this blog post where I mourned Randy’s exile from Burundi once again, and made the comment “This time we know he won’t be back”, HE’S BACK!! Two weeks ago, the state department, in all it’s wisdom, made the decision to lift US Embassy Bujumbura’s Ordered Departure status and allow “employed, adult family members” to return. Other than two employees who have been working from Kigali and were allowed to return, the new status affected exactly one person: Randy McQueen, as he was the one and only employed, adult family member able to return. My non-embassy friends are calling it The Randy Rule. Speaking of happiness, I’m as happy as can be to be reunited.

I can’t tell you how good it is to have him back home. Here we are celebrating a Seder meal on Maundy Thursday with our good friends, whose company we treasure as the days in Bujumbura draw to a close.seder

When Randy returned in November, he was only here three weeks before the city was shut down for a day of unprecedented violence, and non-emergency employees and family members were ordered out once again. For Burundi’s sake, we hope that doesn’t happen this time. For our sakes, we at least hope it doesn’t happen until we leave in just seven short, busy weeks.

But for now, to heck with what naysayers report about Burundi. Today we are happy! Happy to be together, happy to be home–for now, and happy to celebrate Easter together.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

And the winner is…

Not that I want to be accused of being like that elementary school soccer team where everyone who shows up gets a trophy, but we have lots of winners here!

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Felicidades to every one who entered!  As of this writing, just over 24 hours after posting the contest, we’ve had 37 contestants with 47 different guesses and many repeats. Three cities tied for second place with four guesses each: Reykjavik, Budapest, and Buenos Aires, but interestingly, the city with the most guesses-6-was actually correct. Either I have some clever friends or my hints were too good.

Felicidades to everyone who correctly identified an -est.

And felicidades to the following random winners of various side categories:

Miranda King for submitting the first vote! Way to be on top of things, Miranda. (Or to be on FB while at work.)

Ian McQueen for submitting the first -est.

Molly and Ian for the most descriptive -est: Asunción-“the arm-pittiest”.

Lia Stone for the most entries at ten. Quantity over quality, right, Hunter?

Mark Griffith for submitting the most heartfelt and well thought out rationale.

And Christina St. Michel for being the saddest that we’re leaving Africa. I’ll still be here another six months, so maybe we can still see each other!!

And here’s your very last hint:

Bolivia waving flag

However, this hint is not as clear cut as it might seem. The country represented by this flag, like many countries (15 according to the googles), has more than one capital.

Drum roll, please.

Felicidades to Jared King, Andy Jacob, Hannah Eagleton, Becky Baskin, Jon Hood, and Justin Belk who put together all the hints to correctly guess

La Paz

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA!

We’re going to La Paz, y’all! The highest national capital in the world at roughly 11,975 feet above sea level. (Much like the source of the Nile, this -est is disputed, as some people say La Paz isn’t a capital–Sucre is–and gives the honors to Quito at a mere 9,350′.)

Thanks, everyone, for playing. It was fun to see all the guesses and all the -ests. That was definitely the most popular clue.

And here are some reasons I’m excited about our new post:

  1. First and foremost, because it was Randy’s first choice. After being such a good sport (most of the time) during the past two years, I’m so pleased he got his wishes.
  2. And following as a close second, I think the job itself is going to be great. I’ve heard nothing but good from the person there now. I think it will be interesting and challenging, but a little less stressful than Bujumbura. (Ha–almost anything would be less stressful than Buj right now.)
  3. Spanish! Randy promised he’d learn. Donde esta la tortuga, right, Ian? L’addition, por favor.
  4. It looks beautiful! And there’s no malaria!! And it’s not hot!!
  5. We’ll be a little bit closer to home and 1-3 time zones away instead of 7-9.
  6. People might come visit!!
  7. I’ve never been to South America and there are so many things I want to see and do there–Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Galapagos Islands, Quito, Patagonia…and all the local treasures I don’t even know about. And people might come visit. Oh, did I mention that already?
  8. I think it will be interesting politically and diplomatically, but again, a little less “interesting” than Burundi is at the moment!

Only fitting. We’re going from The Buj to The Peace.

And total extra points to anyone who identified the hidden clue in the very last line of the hints post. Be honest; did anyone get it?

Peace out and start planning your visit! ETA should be around August 2016, give or take.

 

Happy Guessing

And may the odds be ever in your favor.

The handshake has arrived.

Our fate, well, at least our destination for the next two years, which has been in the hands of others, has finally been revealed.

But before we celebrate the elaborate GeoReveal (like a gender reveal, only different), let’s have a guessing contest!

Here are the rules:

  1. Anyone may enter. However, if you were privy to the Top Six bid list, (you know who you are) please submit your guesses privately, via email or FB private message, as you would have an unfair advantage.
  2. You may enter as many times as you’d like. (Really, there are very few rules in this contest.)
  3. Enter the name of the city. Remember, the state department, in all its wisdom, refers to these locations as cities, not countries.
  4. You may submit guesses via comments on this blog or on FB comments on this post. Or any other way you can think of to publicly share them. WhatsApp. Hangouts. Skype. Viber. iMessenger. FaceTime. Smoke signals. Skywriting. Shout it from the rooftops. You have to admit–we have way too many choices of ways to communicate.

But whatever you do, you should enter a guess. Just because you should be a good sport and play along. And because the prizes are so cool. Like free room and board when you come to visit. And the pride of knowing you guessed well.

So then.

Here are the hints:

  1. You’ve likely heard of this city. I mean, maybe. If you’re pretty decent at national capitals. I am surprised to be giving this hint, as I was expecting to be saying the opposite. Most of the cities on my list you’d likely never heard of. Generally, if you’ve heard of it, I wouldn’t be going there.
  2. You’re more likely to visit us here than our present location. Unless you’re Britta Erickson or one of our Kigali girls, because they all visited us here. (FYI: you’re all welcome to visit, and Britta, if you come, it’ll be like a tradition!)
  3. It’s not on the same continent as our present location. That is in response to the mandate Randy laid down: NO. MORE. AFRICA.
  4. Its climate is…surprising. It’s full of interesting contrasts; for example the diurnal temperature variation is typically large. Who knew?
  5. As national capitals go, it’s a superlative. That means it’s a ‘something-est’. You know, like biggest or smallest or coldest or hottest or cleanest or dirtiest or some other -est. You get extra points if you guess what -est it is.
  6. Its inhabitants speak a different language than our present location.  I mean, that’s not really a good hint, since they speak Kirundi here and only here.
  7. It’s a post with no USAID presence. Now I know that doesn’t mean much to you non-Foreign Service people, so that’s just a little trick to throw people in the know off the trail.
  8. We’re really excited. It was #1 on our Bid List, which is absolutely amazing to me, because I never never never expected to score this.

So there you have it. Let the guessing begin. Free room and board when you come to visit!! Please please please enter your guesses so I can share our news soon. You know I don’t keep secrets well!

Peace out, y’all.

Musical Continents

First, disclaimers:

Disclaimer #1: OK, so I stole the title from our very witty finance guru; it was the phrase he used when he dispersed our travel authorizations for yet another Ordered Departure. It does aptly describe the game we feel we are playing.

Disclaimer #2: Much of this news has already made it to FB and emails. so if we’re in touch that way, this may all be old news. Sorry for the repeat.

Disclaimer #3: The overarching theme of this post is sadness. (At least after you get past the turkeys.) If you’re not up for being bummed, you might want to skip reading any further. Sorry, but from the beginning the point of this blog was to capture the moment, and right now the moment is sad. There’s just no way around it.

So if you follow this story, you’ll know from my last post in September that we were awaiting the final decision about our exiled family members returning. We were hopeful then doubtful then hopeful then just plain exhausted from the waiting. But finally, at the final hour, the Ordered Departure was lifted and our families were allowed to return.

This long awaited moment was a sight for sore eyes, to be sure!

Randy in Buj

 

Randy returned on the Friday before Thanksgiving, sporting three frozen turkeys in his luggage, just in time for the holidays! We had a great Thanksgiving together, celebrating two wonderful meals on Thanksgiving with colleagues and Marines,

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fried a turkey just for the two of us over the weekend (first time ever–it was delicious and we ate the whole thing–just turkey, no sides, no lie),

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and joined a wonderful group of missionaries from all over the world on Sunday.

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We were thankful beyond words–to be together and to be celebrating this uniquely American holiday so richly.

(One other little Thanksgiving note before I move on to the sad part: someone had asked us to fry a Burundian turkey for one of the feasts. I brought it home and put it in the sink. When Randy opened up the package, he gasped and exclaimed: “It’s a marathon runner turkey!” I said, “huh?” He replied, “There’s not an ounce of fat on it!” Ha ha ha ha ha. Those Butterballs never tasted so good.)

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(Didas, one of our favorite guards, was fascinated.)

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Then last Friday, December 11th, just three short weeks after Randy’s return, we were woken at 5:45 in the morning by a phone call from the Health Unit nurse reporting that she didn’t think she’d make it into work. There had been heavy gunfire since about 4:00 am. This was not an unusual occurrence, but something in her voice sounded different. We tried to go back to sleep, but by that time, even we could hear it. (I usually don’t hear anything in my little soundproof bedroom with my noise blocking curtains, fan, A/C, generator, and sound machine.)

A few minutes later we got the “shelter in place until further notice” text, and thus began one of the longest and loudest days of my life. Gunfire, explosions, rapid-fire artillery continued for almost 18 hours. Some of it sounded so close I thought it was in front of my house. We found out later that police (or military–not clear which) had set up less than a block away, shooting across the ravine into the neighborhood to the south, which has long been a hot spot. No wonder it sounded close; IT WAS!

According to news reports, two military camps and one military school were attacked by the insurgents. It was the worse day of violence since the protests started on April 26th. This is not a good sign this late in the game. Especially since it appeared to have been a coordinated attack. Not. A. Good. Sign.

As a result, Embassy Bujumbura is now on Ordered Departure 2.0. Musical continents. Randy left yesterday, due to land in Denver as I write this.

(Here he is in the airport, drinking his last Primus ever. And I think he’s OK with that.)

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The last of the children fly out tomorrow, and those of us left behind begin another season alone. Once again, no one can predict the future, except that it just doesn’t look good.

As sad as all this has been for us, and as difficult as the weekend was, returning to work on Monday was devastating. The Burundians we work with are gutted. They are sad, they are tired, they are frightened, but most horribly of all, they feel hopeless. Many are people of deep faith, but the reality on the ground is difficult to reconcile. Our hearts break anew for them and for this beautiful country.

As for us, we will make it through. Even though Randy was only here for three weeks, I am so thankful for that time together, for multiple reasons. First, of course, it was good to be together. But it was also good for Randy to be able to put closure on his life in Bujumbura. He left with one suitcase in April, planning to return in three weeks. He left yesterday, knowing he will not return. But most significant of all, this short time here, experiencing the violence firsthand, and seeing the devastation in his former co-workers on Monday, really softened his heart for Burundi in indescribably important ways. This is big, y’all.

And the timing is not terrible for us. In just three short weeks, I’ll head to Denver as chief post-op nurse for Randy’s total hip replacement surgery, scheduled for January 11th. Hopefully he’ll be in good shape by the time I return to Buj at the end of the month. Then I’ll pass back through Denver a month later to check on him after our annual conference in San Diego. By the time I return to Buj in March, I’ll know more about timing and onward assignments and how the next few months will play out. Unless things change drastically here, and they could, I will likely finish out my tour here alone, but at least it won’t be the waiting game it was the first time around. This time we know he won’t be back. And that’s OK. It could be way worse.

And so the adventure continues. The future? Bleak. Unpredictable for Burundi. But what a time to be here and to be able to stand side by side with these beautiful people. I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything, as difficult as it has been.

Please pray for Burundi, for peace.

And stay tuned. Next up, very shortly: HANDSHAKES!

 

 

 

Handshakes and Contests

Two years ago when I was preparing to leave my beloved Denver and head off to DC for some brief training, and then on to Destination Unknown, we agreed that we would be gone for one two-year tour. At the time, that sounded like adventure enough. (Little did we know what was to come….)

But somehow, about mid-way in, the idea of a second posting, a second two-year tour, presented itself. It did so in the form of a preliminary list of possible second posts. And before we knew what was happening, and much to even our own surprise, the conversation turned from if to where.

Randy says he clearly remembers the moment. His view was that I/we were being “robbed” of a fair experience because of the crisis and chaos, so he thought we should try one more time for a “real” experience.

Me? I’m not so sure. My memory is that the process stretched out over a long period of time, and at some point, we crossed over. I’m not even sure I can articulate why or how that crossover occurred, but of course, that won’t keep me from trying. So here goes a stab at recording a few reasons why I think we decided to give it another go:

  1. There is a great need. Worldwide, we are still about a dozen providers short. This means foreign service officers and their families are going into places with little to no health care available locally with no in-house medical provider. In turn, this adds to the difficulty of attracting quality officers to serve in those places. It’s hard to say no to the need, plus it’s nice to be needed.
  2. I’m qualified and available. There’s something to be said for the right man for the job, and my training, experience, and personality make me suitable for the work. Plus I’m not sure what other realistic thing I’d be interested in doing at this point.
  3. I’ve learned so much these past two years it feels wasteful to stop now. And I don’t just mean about medicine, but about so very many other things as well–state department policies, diplomacy, bureaucracy, politics, government, crisis management, geography, African history, African politics (President for Life 3.0), alternate views, living outside the bubble, missionaries on the ground, and so much more. It feels right to continue.
  4. It’s an opportunity to serve. Opportunities to serve abound, including opportunities in your own home, your own family, your own back yard, your own city, your own country. But it’s certainly worth noting when a unique and specific opportunity presents itself directly to you. I guess you could say I feel called.
  5. I’m not going to lie: I love to travel. When I see a map, my eyes light up and my heart races. I want to go there and often it doesn’t even matter where! There’s even been some research about this being wired into our DNA. This is no endorsement of the scientific validity of the findings, but this article even identifies the mutation of the gene. Whatever. I just think the suitcase should be stored in a convenient place and the vacuum cleaner less so. Now I know there are those reading this that get it, and likely share this passion. And there are those who don’t–at all. Let’s just celebrate that it takes all kinds of people to make a world, and I’m glad I’m me and you’re you!!
  6. I’m not going to lie, Part Deux: I love having someone else pay for my travel. Oh, yea, and meet me at the airport with my name on a placard. Boom.
  7. And lastly, I’m not ready to hang it up, nor am I quite ready to tackle a whole new thing at this point. So it just makes sense to Keep Calm and Carry On, with apologies to the British WWII propaganda machine.

All that to say, we’re considering a second two-year assignment. As you can probably imagine, there’s a prolonged, bureaucratic process for this. For me, as a soon-to-be second tour MED officer, it goes something like this:*

First the list comes out. It’s a preliminary list, subject to many potentially heartbreaking changes, but it’s a list. What follows is a scurry of research. Lists are made. Incumbents are contacted. The inside, off-the-record scoop is sought. Maps are consulted. (Of course, maps are consulted, because likely most of the places on the list are strange, unfamiliar places, as the state department, in all its wisdom, only refers to posts by cities, never countries.) As more information is gained, graphs are made; potential locations fall on and off the list; options are ranked according to criteria like climate, city and embassy size, length of commute, dog and runner friendly, housing, availability of household help (yes, we put that on the ranking list–coming home every day to a clean house, ironed clothes, and a cooked meal are perks this non-Suzy-Homemaker gal can embrace), job satisfaction, and overall quality of life, as far as it can be predicted from the research.

Eventually a list is finalized, called the “Bid List“. Submitting this prioritized list of six places you’d be willing to spend your next two years is exciting and filled with trepidation. What am I thinking?, you ask yourself. I just said I’d be willing to go where? A month ago I had never even heard of that place. But the list is submitted nonetheless.

And then comes the part I’ve never been good at, but am getting much better at due to much practice: you wait for someone else to decide your fate.

That’s where we are today. Waiting. The euphemistic term for the disseminating of this information is called “handshakes”–referring to an unofficial offer of your next post. We were due to receive our handshakes a couple of weeks ago, but were informed it would be Thanksgiving week. In an effort to manage my expectations, I’m gearing up to hear the news by Christmas, just to avoid the continual disappointment of inevitable postponements.

When said handshake is received, I shall sponsor a contest, as I did the first time. It costs nothing to enter, and you may enter as many times as you’d like. Winner gets free room and board when they come to visit. I jest: everyone gets free room and board when they come to visit, but enter the contest anyway. (Don’t laugh; we had seven visitors to Buj!! Two even came twice!) When I announce the contest, which of course could be any day now, I’ll offer hints, but in the meantime, you can be thinking about your guesses. The potential winning answer could be anywhere listed on the map below! (Wishing you all the best in reading the fine print!)

World map of embassies

So stay tuned! It could be any day between now and Christmas!

 

*At least, this is the process for me. As they always say, “MED does things differently”, so other foreign service officers’ experience may vary greatly.

Oh, What a Year!

A year ago today, Adam, Todd, and I were completing the last 12 or so miles of our trek up (and down) Kilimanjaro.

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It was a quintessential bucket-list accomplishment, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, of which, in actuality, we’ve had plenty. (Once-in-a-lifetime experiences, that is. Some of them we could’ve done without.)

And what a year it has been since then, filled with things we never imagined or predicted. Here are some of the highs and lows, all mixed in together.

We attended our first ever Marine Corps Ball, right on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

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I spent a major holiday alone, separated from all family, last Thanksgiving–for the first time ever in my very long life.

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I survived, but I’m fine if I never do that again. Sadly, I could very likely repeat that this year.

Megan came to visit Africa! What a fun trip and a great opportunity for her! OK, maybe that one we both imagined and predicted.

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(BTW, I TOTALLY thought I wrote a blog post on this visit–we had such a great time–but I found the post in my draft folder the other day. I hope to finish it before this Christmas! )

We went to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, enjoying a completely different part of the world for the first time.

Randy’s father died, and we had a coup in Burundi, all mixed up in one big mess of a time.

And three months ago today, this happened:

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Happy Three Month Anniversary, Val and Adam! (I really do promise a blog post soon about that wonderful, wonderful day!)

And here we are, October 17, 2015. Who would ever have predicted last year, as we were descending from Mount Kilimanjaro, that I’d be here a year later, in Bujumbura, 5+ months into being separated from Randy? Not me.

At least now, 5+ months in, the end is in sight. We really, truly, for sure, not-kidding-this-time, will know something soon. Our 180 days (the legal limit for an evacuation to last) is over in just three weeks. Sometime between now and November 9, we will find out our fate. It will be one of three end results: either (1) our Ordered Departure will be lifted and all of our exiled family members and co-workers will return, or (2) we will become partially unaccompanied with only adult family members returning, or (3) Bujumbura will become an unaccompanied post, with no family members allowed.

If scenario 1 occurs, I have three bottles of bubbly chilling in the fridge to celebrate. If scenario 2 occurs, Randy will return, along with only one other adult spouse. I guess the four of us will share the bubbly. If scenario 3 occurs, the six current employees here at post (and three working remotely in Washington or Kigali) who have endured this 6 month separation from our families will likely request a compassionate curtailment and begin the process of finding a new onward assignment. I’ll be sad to leave Bujumbura, sad to leave our friends and this beautiful country I have come to love, but way past ready to be reunited with Randy and have this waiting game over.

Which scenario is most likely? Your guess is truly as good as mine. The unknown, the uncertainty, the waiting, the hoping, the guessing has all been part of what has made this time so stressful and difficult. Regardless of the outcome, there is not a person involved who is not ready for this to be over, one way or the other.

This blog used to be jam-packed full of amazing adventures and good times. I’m ready for that to resume.

On or before November 9th, we’ll know.

 

No News Is…

We’ve all heard the maxim: no news is good news. Unfortunately, here in Bujumbura of late, I’m going to have to go with no news is…well, no news.

I should end this blog post here. That would sum it up nicely. (And no one could call TLDR* on me.)

The sad reality is…I have no news. August 26, a long anticipated day, has come and gone. For me, as an American observer, it marked four solid months since the manifestations (protests) began. For me, as a lonely wife, it marked four solid months since the day Randy left Bujumbura. For us as an embassy, it marked our last “flash point”.

Let me explain: For four months now, we have all been living under the stressful anticipation of what we’ve come to call The Rolling Date of Impending Doom. Surely something big is going to happen to us. Once we get this or that behind us, we’ll know more. If we can get through this election, or that event, we’ll have a better sense of the future. When this or that day comes, this “flash point”, where we anticipate the risk for a catastrophic event to be high, we’ll be on high alert, but if it passes without consequence (i.e., nothing happens), then the worst will be behind us, and we can get on with life, which includes bringing our exiled family members back. And on and on. The Rolling Date of Impending Doom.

We’ve been living like this for all this time, but really, all along August 26th was to be our last flash point. It was the official last day of the incumbent government, by which time a new government of some kind or another must be put in place.

And August 26th has come and gone. A new government, notwithstanding the question of its legitimacy, has been inaugurated. We still live with vague future potentialities, but no more specific dates. Nothing has happened. We are ready to move on.

Now let me explain what I mean by Nothing has happened. Of course, plenty has happened. High ranking government officials have been assassinated. People have been targeted and gunned down in their homes. Nightly raids continue. Human rights activists and peace loving civil servants have been attacked in their cars. Thousands of citizens have fled in fear. Schools and shops closed. The economy tanked. Life in the city was completely disrupted for Burundians. Plenty. Has. Happened.

But what I mean by Nothing has happened is…nothing has happened that has affected us as Americans, other than the initial coup attempt and subsequent brief closure of the airport in May. Since that enormous disruption which caused the evacuation of our families and pets, we’ve just been living with the Rolling Date of Impending Doom. But the Impending Doom has not occurred and we are ready to get on with it. We have passed our last flash point.

And we wait.

The present Ordered Departure status is in effect until September 10, just three short days from today. We eagerly await the cable that will dictate our future: the Ordered Departure status will be lifted, and our people will return, or it will be extended yet another thirty days. Many in our community are optimistic. In a rare, out-of-character-for-me moment, I do not share their optimism. “In three days (or sooner), we’ll know more,” she said for the thousandth time.

And so we wait.

In sum, this has been a difficult and frustrating time filled with a myriad of conversations, interactions, events, consequences, and perspectives not appropriate for this blog. I long to keep a good state of mind, body, and spirit, but feel I have fallen short of that goal. I’ve always believed that God won’t necessarily change your circumstances during trials, but rather that he seeks to change you.

Unfortunately, these trials have made me more bitter and angry, with me giving in to my frustrations, rather than heeding my own advice and focusing on the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Perhaps just committing those nine words to paper will inspire me to live them better.

Hmph. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

But despite my present circumstances and frame of mind, I treasure the chance to end on a more positive note. Since my last blog post, this happened:

11888036_10203919971594249_5925552916829422512_n(Blog post with details and photos galore to follow shortly.)

And this weekend, I successfully Road Tripped To Rwanda and Operation Super Q Reunification Project, complete with successful (and uneventful) border crossings, brought this guy home:

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At least this begins the reunification of the McQueen family.

Stay tuned for news: the future status of the Ordered Departure, the wedding blog post (undoubtedly more upbeat than this one), and the ever anticipated topic in the Foreign Service: bidding!!

À bientôt!

 

*Too Long, Didn’t Read