اولین جلوه های ویژه

I have a tradition of recording First Impressions, (see this and this) which is the title of this post–in Dari, one of the local languages. (If you do something three times, does that constitute a “tradition”? In my crazy, mixed-up, non-traditional world, it certainly does!)

So here is the latest in my “First Impressions” series–those precious first thoughts and experiences which color everything and which are unique to fresh eyes, ears, and heart. It’s always so interesting to return after a while and see how first impressions line up with a later perspective.

First, it’s prettier than I expected.  Sadly, we are only allowed to take photographs in three places, one being the official seal in front of the NOB (which I think stands for New Office Building, but you never know. Acronyms are a whole other blog post):

(Stay tuned for the other two locations, coming soon.)

So you’ll just have to take my word for how beautiful it is, although I don’t think my words will do the colorful display justice. There are flowers, including roses galore, and coreopsis, zinnias, marigolds, vinca, petunias, snapdragons, geraniums, portulaca, verbena, four o’clocks, sunflowers, and strawberry plants and multiple types of basil, and more! All these things we see on our twice daily walk to and from work, and I was able to record them all for you because, lo and behold, my boss, besides being an awesome human being in multiple ways, is also a gardener and identified them all for me.

Additionally, there are huge (as in HUGE) photos of national parks and amazing scenery from the US (even Mount Rushmore, and Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower) printed on canvases that line the walls of the building and the tunnel we walk through every day. These two things are a huge respite from the otherwise concrete world in which I now live and work.

It’s huge. As in, I wonder how long it will take me to find my way around without getting lost. The buildings go by mysterious names like EOB and NOB and NOX and D-FAC and SDA-1, 2, and 3, and SDA-A, B, and C. Who knows what it all means and where to find anything? The other day I received an email that I had a package, and I wandered around aimlessly for a very long time, through multiple buildings, before finding the mail room.

It’s intense. I had heard all about how we work long hours, six days a week, and so far, it’s true. My favorite term “it’s always something” is on steroids here. It’s really always something and my guess is that pace will continue. There are anywhere between 6K-7K people here, which is bigger than all but a dozen cities in Wyoming. So there is always something happening, someone needing something, whether it is a report, or a suture.

There are so many players. I don’t know if I will ever learn who’s who and who does what. And that’s just the world of MED; don’t even think about the rest of the embassy players. There are doctors, and nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, and medics and first responders. There are direct hires and contractors of all sorts. There are American nurses, and family member nurses, and third country national nurses, and Afghan nurses. And there are multiple facilities with whom we have varying relationships which go by varying names and acronyms and designations that I’ve never heard of. But thankfully I’m part of an awesome team and there’s always someone to ask.

It’s a compound. We live and work and eat and sleep and exercise and recreate here. We do not leave, except for our designated R & Rs, and when we do depart, it’s via helicopter. It’s not like we can take a three-day weekend to see the sights. What I see from the rooftop deck of my apartment building is what I see.

The food is amazing. And plentiful. There is so. much. food. There are three dining facilities, and each one is better than the last. They have special brunch on Fridays (our only day off), and steak and seafood dinners, and every fresh vegetable you can imagine. (Except brussel sprouts, now that I think of it. I think I will request some.) And the food, in addition to being plentiful and varied, is actually really good. It takes a lot of discipline to avoid the Freshman Fifteen here, I do believe.

And there is always something going on.  It’s been referred to as a “cruise ship run aground”–and it’s aptly named. There are first run movies, and spin class, and art class, and trivia nights, and open air markets with local vendors, and church services of every ilk, and even a games night, which I attended for the first time this week. But don’t be fooled; there are frequent duck and cover incidents, too. It is a war zone.

There is a lot of security here. That’s all I’m going to say. A lot of security. A lot of people in various brown uniforms carrying various means of protection. It is not difficult to remember where we are and what is going on here. But I feel safe and protected in my little world.

Next up: I’ll share lots of photos in Place #2 where we are allowed to take them. Stay tuned.

 

 

“Safe Travels!”

The last time I saw my friend, Jill, before I departed Denver for the next installment of Adventures Unknown, she requested a blog post about my travels. I guess it seems potentially interesting or even glamorous to jet across multiple time zones to destinations few in most people’s inner circles have journeyed.

So here I am, obliging her request. And I am SO HAPPY to report that my travels, although lengthy, were exactly what you always want travels to be: UNEVENTFUL!

It started off not-so-good with a tearful good-bye to the newest member of our family, Nora Marie:

 

As a bit of a backstory, I planned my Home Leave to stretch as long as legally possible in hopes of being present for her birth. She was due exactly one week before my planned departure, but I was thoroughly prepared for her arrival to be typically late and to miss the entire event. Getting on that plane while mom was in labor was what I was expecting/preparing for, and It might’ve been the hardest thing I’d ever need to do. However, in an unprecedented moment of incredible cooperativeness, she arrived one week early! This gave me a full two weeks to enjoy her cuddles, and I am ever so grateful to her parents, Adam and Val, who accommodated my wishes and let me snuggle her every day I was home.

Leaving Randy, leaving family, leaving friends, leaving Quandary, leaving Denver, leaving Home Leave was difficult, but all that paled in comparison to leaving Nora Marie. It just about did me in.

Once that heart-rending event was behind me, the rest was fairly easy. Whenever I travel, especially to far-flung places involving multiple flights, I am always amazed when all goes smoothly. But, in fact, all did go smoothly. And I am so thankful.

My first destination was:

where unfortunately, I had a rather lengthy layover. I cannot speak highly enough of a Priority Pass lounge card, which we have via the Chase Sapphire Credit Card.

It’s an expensive card, but you receive much of the initial fee back in travel credit. I’m no Points Guy Guru, but it is worth the money. The lounges typically are pretty decent, free internet, free food and drink, and at least a bit more security than out in the airport waiting areas. Some even have showers and sleeping pods.

Anyway, I wrapped my arms around my carry-on luggage and fell sound asleep for several hours on a comfy sofa. I always try to sleep as much as possible while traveling. I don’t really subscribe to jet leg, so the more sleep I can get, the better that goes for me. (I know it isn’t scientific to ‘not subscribe to jet leg’, but for me it’s all about mind over matter. Besides, I knew I had to hit the ground running.)

I was a bit concerned about the 12.5 hour leg from JKF to Dubai, but it was not a full flight, so I was able to snag a few empty seats, and in between in-flight movies, stretch out and sleep soundly again. It went by very quickly, and I never even used any of the movies I had downloaded on my iPad. And Emirates is as nice an airline as you’ve always heard it was. The food was decent; the service wonderful; the plane a bit fancy, even in economy. And the flight attendants’ uniforms were amazing.

Once in Dubai, I found my way to the Kabul boarding area. I kept looking around thinking…all these people are going to Kabul (because it’s not like they’d be transiting through Kabul to anywhere else). Why? Why are all these people going to Kabul? And then it hit me, why am going to Kabul? But I guess it was a bit late for that question. Ha.

On the reasonably quick flight from Dubai to Kabul, I had the good fortune of being seated next to an experienced embassy employee who was returning from an R & R. Thankfully, she gave me a few tips and pointers about where to go, what to do, who to hand my luggage tags to, and processing for the final leg of the journey went as smoothly as it could’ve possibly gone.

First, we exited the plane via a different route than everyone else. Then a fully armoured vehicle took us to a special section for clearing immigration. There we waited until our helicopter was ready to take us on the very last leg of our already lengthy journey. We watched the special safety briefing about no hats or open-toed shoes, the need to wear ear protection, and how to don our safety equipment, and enter the helo. I have a really awesome photo of myself in the helo, complete with all the requisite safety equipment, but we’re really not supposed to take photos in the helo, and certainly not share them, so this photo of my personal-issue flak jacket will just have to suffice for now:

Before I could scarcely take it all in, our six minute helo ride was over and we touched down on the compound, where I was greeted by my colleagues sporting this lovely welcome sign:

And just like that, my travels are over for now, and compound life begins.

By tradition, next up: first impressions!

Stay tuned.

This Is A Test

This is a test to see if you’ll follow directions!

I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it again: I’m back to blogging. I do believe this next year will be more conducive to climbing back in the saddle, so I’m going to make a sincere pledge to do so.

However, I’d like to make it a little more private, and divorce it from social media. To that end, this will be the last post I’ll share on Facebook. So if you want to follow along, please go to the right side of the blog and click on “subscribe to my posts”. You’ll receive an email alert when I publish a new post. Don’t worry; I don’t post that often, so it’s not like I’ll be slamming your inbox frequently. But subscribing will be the best way to keep up.

Be sure to subscribe soon as I have a couple of updates in the queue regarding my recent travel and adventures! See you there!

Winners…And Explanations

You guys are awesome. We had some really good guessers! Or else my hints were too good. And it’s been a lot of fun, so thanks for playing along. Altogether we had forty-one participants, with five disqualified or abstained, and TWENTY correct guesses!!

But before the Geo-Reveal, let me attempt to do the impossible and offer some explanations.

To my friends, colleagues, and co-workers in the Foreign Service, you might, maybe, possibly, get it. But then again, even some of you might not.

To my family and friends in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, please don’t fret: there are lots of dangerous places in the world…like for instance, the Gulf Coast from June 1 to November 30.

To my family and friends in Denver, I’m coming back. In fact, this will help me to return sooner. Well, sort of…

So by now anyone reading this knows the story–it was just going to be two years…then two more. And now, as we look ahead, we need another year. That will get me to the magic five-year mark, which makes me eligible for retirement from the federal government. As my son Adam says, “so in other words, Mom, you’re doing something you don’t really need, motivated by pride, which is a sin…”. Yea, something like that.

In my line of work in the Foreign Service, there’s only one way to get “one more year”. And that’s PSP. PSP stands for Priority Staffing Post. As you might surmise from the name, these are assignments to dangerous places that must be filled before the rest of the assignments in the world are released for bidding. And due to the dangerous nature of these assignments, they are generally one-year assignments instead of the usual two or three. The only other way was to accept a two-year assignment knowing I would bail half-way through, and I wasn’t comfortable with that idea.

And since PSP assignments are settled first, that’s why I have a handshake now and others have not yet even begun the bidding process. But fear not, we don’t depart La Paz until next summer, so you still have time to plan that visit.

There were lots of other factors that played into the decision, of course, besides just the one-year timeline. There was that whole “adventure” bit, and the challenge of doing something new and different. This time, I’ll be part of a team, instead of the Lone Ranger I was in Buj, and to a certain extent, here. And Randy was ready to go home, and he can’t technically accompany me, so that detail fell into place, too. I considered playing up the heroic angle of providing medical services to people who are sacrificing for democracy and fighting terrorists, but decided that’s not really my style, so you can go where you’d like with that concept.

All that said, congratulations to twenty people who guessed correctly, and especially to the ten people who correctly named the city.

And the drum roll please…

Summer 2018 will find me headed to US EMBASSY KABUL, AFGHANISTAN


The photo above is of the city of Kabul, which I won’t actually see. I’ll live on a heavily guarded compound, which I’ll leave exactly three times during my 365 days there–my three R & Rs which we’re allowed, and I’m told, we’ll need. I’ll likely live in a CHU (a containerized housing unit) and eat three meals a day in the cafeteria. (Living quarters without a kitchen!! My dream come true!!) All that said, I’ve been told by many: it’s not that bad. The year goes by quickly; everyone is busy at work; you find your little space in the compound and make it work.

I’m actually looking forward to the challenge…and then of course, looking forward to settling back in to Denver Summer 2019, where I’ll rejoin Randy and fade off into the sunset. Ha.

 

 

Third Time’s The Charm

It’s time for our third and final guessing game. You may remember I sponsored fun contests with great prizes…well, maybe not so much on the prizes part, but the contests were fun…when I received my last two assignments. So here’s to tradition and our third guessing game.

Here are the rules:

  1. If you already know or have been part of conversations involving this assignment, you are ineligible for the contest and great prizes. Please exercise restraint and refrain from commenting.
  2. You may only enter one guess. We’re going for quality not quantity this time.
  3. Always enter the city, not just the country. Many (most–but not all!) countries have embassies in their capital cities and consulates in other major cities. You never know.
  4. Enter your guess on the blog comments, on the FB post, or sky-writing. Anything goes; just one guess.

Here are the hints:

  1. It isn’t on your bucket list.
  2. No worries about #1; you can’t come visit me anyway, although Adam is trying to find a way.
  3. It will be my fifth continent I’ll call home.
  4. I will still be able to see mountains.
  5. I’ll be close to A Mile High.
  6. I’ll enjoy four seasons for the first time in my state department career.
  7. Randy says it is a seismically active area. (Don’t geologists say that about everywhere? I mean, the earth is movin’ and shakin’.)
  8. It’s in the news a lot.
  9. You’ll think I’m crazy, maybe question my overall sanity, and probably be either confused or in disbelief.

Go. And quickly, because you know I don’t hold secrets for long.

Reviving the Blog

Recently I was looking for a photo to show someone, and I remembered that it was on the blog. I pulled it up, searched, and quickly located the photo. Then I spent hours reliving our amazing adventures, and remembered why I started the blog in the first place–to preserve the memories. Incredible adventures we certainly have had, and it made me sad that I have not recorded many from our time here in Bolivia and this unique, diverse, and beautiful continent, heretofore almost totally unknown to me. I hereby pledge to myself to revive the blog. I hope I can fulfill the pledge. It’ll be a series of latergrams, but memories all the same.

Besides, we have news.

Those who have followed the misadventures from the beginning know the famous line we held on to: “just two years”. It was just going to be a two year adventure and then we’d return to our beloved Denver.

And then there was that whole Ordered Departured Thing, and Randy missing half the first adventure, so we agreed to just one more tour. And La Paz it was.

Now at almost halfway through, it’s not a good time to quit. With just another year after La Paz, I could actually retire. And although the benefits would be minuscule, there is something to be said for that accomplishment, especially for a person who sacrificed the chance of a career to raise a family (NO regrets there–I’d do it all over again). Besides, think of the retirement party! You should start making plans to come!

All that to say, handshakes* are a-comin’. Soon. And you know what that means.

Contests.

The rules, along with the hints, will be published soon. Stay tuned!!

 

*For those who don’t remember, “handshakes” is the term used to denote the promise of the next post. It’s a promise because nothing is official until it goes through the laborious paperwork process, but a handshake is as good as gold.

In My Own Back Yard

Those of us prone to wander in search of far-flung, exotic adventures often encounter great discoveries in our own back yards. And while it is true that I’m prone to wander afar, I do so appreciate my own backyard, so to speak: the great Colorado wilderness.

As Home Leave 2016 drew to a close, I had two wonderful opportunities to enjoy said wilderness.

Bierstadt

Climbing Colorado’s 14ers (the 53 peaks in Colorado over 14,000′) is one of my favorite activities, and I had hoped to squeeze one in over the summer. Adam and Val were in, and Val’s dad Dennis wanted to join as well; it would be his first. Trying to choose which one to climb was challenging; I of course wanted it to be a new one for me, but trying to find a suitable one for Dennis was nearly impossible, since I’ve already summited all the easier ones close to home. In the end, I decided it was more fun to go along than it was to conquer a new one, so we headed out–not just Adam, Val, Dennis, and I, but Val’s sister and five of her best friends. And not a new one for me, but everyone’s favorite: Bierstadt. It would be my fourth time to climb it; third to summit. But a day in Colorado’s mountains with friends and family is always a good day, so Bierstadt it was.

Here’s the gang at the start:

And just the girls!

And the conditions at the start!

And here we are at the top! We made it!!

It’s my tradition to eat an apple on the summit of every 14er.

See the number of fingers I’m holding up? Get it?

All you moms out there in Momland, you know how precious a photo like this is.

But no more Bierstadt!!

Backpacking

My very last Home Leave Adventure is one I will not soon forget. My dear friends Jean and Al invited me to go backpacking in the Great Colorado Outdoors. Being no stranger to sleeping outside, I of course jumped at the chance to love me some wilderness.

Here are the three of us at the trailhead at the beginning of the two-night trip. Notice we are all smiles, fresh-looking, anticipating a wonderful escape from the stresses of life.

Here is where this essay diverges into a Column of Unsolicited Advice.

If you’re an inexperienced backpacker, and you’re considering an excursion, I offer the following:

  • Just because you can do X, doesn’t necessarily mean you can do Y. Specifically, just because I have accomplished what many would consider kinda up there in terms of physical feats, like summiting Kilimanjaro and running marathons and such, doesn’t necessarily mean that I can carry an enormous load on my back for many miles. These activities are very different in nature, and in demands. For example, backpacking in Colorado usually doesn’t involve porters, which really is a shame.

  • If you’re going to attempt anything, be properly outfitted. My ill-fitting, purchased-in-1998 backpack predated ultra-lightweight materials and made-for-females hip suspension systems. With apologies to Wild, it came to be known as The Monstrosity. If you’ve read A Walk in the Woods (or seen the movie, which I haven’t), you’ll know how tempted I was to throw my pack over a cliff in Katz-esque fashion.

  • If you don’t have the right kit, beg, borrow, or steal it. (Kidding about that last option.) My friend’s sleeping bag, pictured here, fit nicely in the palm of her hand. Mine was bigger than a bread box and weighed approximately two tons, or so it felt. It was great for keeping me roasty-toasty near the Snows of Kilimanjaro, where a porter carried it, and everything else my little heart might desire for a week, but not so great when it wouldn’t even fit in my pack.

Mine is that humongous black thing hanging off the bottom of my pack. It was almost the size of her entire pack.

If your friend is very experienced and very competent, take his advice. My friend Al backpacks multiple times a year and has for most of his life. He knows what he’s doing. When I arrived at his house, he Cheryl Strayed (yes, this can be a verb) my belongings, and I’m glad I did. It would’ve been worse with all the weight of those extra shoes, changes of clothes, and random paraphernalia that I never would’ve needed anyway because mostly all I was doing was trying to survive. Who needs a change of clothes when you don’t have the energy to put them on?

Thankfully, I did have one piece of very important gear–as did my friend, Jean. No, we didn’t coordinate these purchases, but discovered several years ago we were twinning. Except that I had to special order mine to get the right size, and pay full price, while she found hers at an REI garage sale. Totally not fair.

And lastly, never pass up an opportunity for an adventure. We had a wonderful three days in the wilderness, despite the pain in my hip and leg from my ill-fitting pack, made memories I’ll not soon forget, and enjoyed the best that this world has to offer–nature up close. I wouldn’t trade it for anything…but I am investing in new gear.

 

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.

img_9004

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

img_9006

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.

img_9007

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.

img_9011

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.

 

img_9013

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,

img_8684

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!

img_8712

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.

img_20160911_132841032

 

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

img_8744

  • 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!

img_8749

  • 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.

img_8715

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

img_1381

img_1386

img_1403

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

img_1409

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….

img_8716

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!

img_8723

  • 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!

img_8739

img_8743

  • 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.