While the rest of the population enjoys their summers, diplomats are typically packing and unpacking. I was recently reminded that friends and old colleagues are now moving their lives for their next great diplomatic posting adventure. Some are heading to Africa, or South America, and some are going to a different part of Europe. While I was forced to watch my father go into spring packing and figuring out what school I would be attending in the fall, which typically happened every 3 years, I would begin the painful good bye rounds. This meant, for the most part, it was packing season. I never truly understood the stresses until I began working at foreign Affairs. For young officers, it meant putting their name into their top 3 postings, and then they would be selected for an interview. The interview usually was a grueling process. A friend of mine once spent 3 hours in a meeting/interview, without so much as a pee break, she couldn’t figure out if it went well, or went poorly. The panel who interviews at headquarters, then has to go through the candidates with the Ambassador at posting. Most of the time, it is about personality fit, and work ethic. I actually sat in on one panel, and it was a tedious and rather nasty process.
As a young officer, the competition isn’t as fierce, your options are pretty much level playing field. As you go up in seniority, you may not be on the radar, you might be the golden star, or, you have a bullseye on your back. Depending on which group you begin to fall into, competition and backstabbing become pretty intense as you move up the ranks. I never witnessed any true friends within the officers who rotated, they might think they have found friends when they begin, but when you have fewer postings than people as you move up, and you add intellectual ego in the mix, you get a lot, and I mean lot, of petty gossip.
So Spring is usually when appointments begin to be announced, the massive master list would be taken out of personal effects and furniture. The house would be divided up into storage, air shipment, and container. Growing up, this ritual would take a good 2 months to sort out. Depending on where we were going, it also meant shopping for extras, like personal hygiene products, makeup (yes, back in the day, if you were caucasian and being posted to Asia, you couldn’t exactly go to the drugstore and get the right colour concealor), sometimes it also means powdered milk and tampons or pads.
By the time the movers and packers arrive, your house looks more like a war zone, with everything divided. The packing process has the added stress of running around for 3 days to makesure the packers are packing the right things in the right piles. At one posting, we unpacked boxes of all our winter gear, and realized that the majority of our summer wardrobes were in storage. My Mother then went into a complete panic, because we had been posted to a tropical country, and she didn’t pack fancy cocktail dresses in her suitcase (for obvious reasons). It was at this point in time, she realized all clothes had to go with us, everywhere, even if we didn’t use coats for 3 years!
Once the packers were finished, your house would be jammed full of boxes. We would camp out in one of the rooms, as we would be officially living out of suitcases, and the government only paid for a few days in a hotel (yes, it isn’t that comfy when you have kids). When the shippers would arrive, you were happy and sad to say goodbye to all your furniture. Some things you wouldn’t see for 3 years, some you wouldn’t see for a few months.
So, if you know of anyone who is being posted, congratulate them, and bring them food, they might just be living off of Big Macs and staring at boxes!