Friday, September 9, 2011

Colombo 2013!

In the midst of R&R, the chaos of visiting with family and friends and eating everything craved in the last year and soaking in the sun and clean air and shopping like crazy in anticipation of the coming year and of course, tangling with a two year old and a four year old without the respite of school or babysitter, we submitted our bid list. It was a tough balancing act (not so much because of the vacation with small children) but more for the need to find some sort of equilibrium amongst the factors we had ranked as crucial to us, in the hopes that the powers that be would show mercy in making the assignment. A reporting job for Mike (meaning a job as either political officer or in a pinch, econ officer) had to be offset by the need to find posts where we could live reasonably, (meaning we hoped to avoid a horrible security situation, be able to purchase milk and other basic necessities, find adequate medical care and send the girls to a decent school). We had axed most of the places on Mike's list where anything greater than a cold required a medevac, the only English speaking school boasted a dirt floor, car jackings occurred on a daily basis, or milk sometimes absented itself from the store shelves for months at a time. We had, however, compromised by listing a number of places with such attractions as malaria, packs of wild dogs, and milk at over $10 a box (which isn't even close to a gallon). Our top ten included posts in Africa (north and sub-Saharan), Asia (and there we covered virtually every sub-region) and eastern Europe. Most were what are considered by the State Department to be hardship posts, meaning that these are still developing economies with all the challenges that living in such places can bring. Much to our surprise and relief, we got our first pick, Colombo, Sri Lanka. It's a place that neither of us know much about, but it appears by all accounts to be remarkably livable, albeit at a great distance from the U.S. So the plan for now is to leave GDL next summer, spend roughly 7-8 months in DC, where Mike will study Tamil and do some training. I'm currently on the fence about studying Sinhala or just taking that time to reorganize, enjoy DC and figure out how to put together 2500 pounds of consumables to ship to Colombo--more on that later. Ruby will start kindergarten in Arlington, hopefully at one of the Spanish immersion schools in the area and we'll have to confront the frightening expense of some sort of school in the area for Iris as well. And of course, we now have to face the conundrum of housing for such a weird period of time in DC. The State Department makes it easy in some ways with its contract with Oakwood corporate housing but there are other much nicer options available if one is willing to deal with the enormous hassle of negotiating the kind of lease that we require, which must include strange rent arrangements to account for shifting per diem allowances and a diplomatic clause allowing us to get out of the lease as necessary if Mike's assignment changes. There's much to ponder and plan for, which is one of the reasons why we have over a year to figure out how to handle the DC end of things, and even more time to make arrangements for Colombo (right hand drive cars, for example!).