Thank you for being so patient with this project. I realize it’s been over a year since I started. It has taken me a long time to figure out how to approach this final section. Just in the last week, it became clear to me the only way I can start is to try and remove as much emotion as possible, and simply lay it out like a timeline.
One of the most damaging narratives in the public is that we (in the diplomatic world) live a live of luxury. That we appear to be on perpetual vacation, living a charmed life on the taxpayer’s dollar. It doesn’t help that the only stories that get published in books or in newspapers are written with only the positives of this lifestyle. And, while I can certainly appreciate the good that has come from our life overseas, it has not come without serious challenges. With my project — my story, one of many — I hope to break the stereotype that we are always happy, grateful and content. I’m a realist, and probably to a fault. But, life is not always so rosy.
The following paragraphs may shock you. They did me as well; after I typed it out, sat back and read it, I thought…dang. It’s amazing I’m still somewhat level-headed, but it certainly explains so much. After we process what’s to come, it will be easier to get past the peripheral and dig deeper into the story.
This past March marked the fourteenth year since my husband started his career with the State Department, as a Foreign Service Officer. The day my husband took his oath, he surrendered, along with me, our infant son, and any future children, for the greater good.
January 2004. We arrive in Uzbekistan. Days later, a plane crashes with conspicuous allegations, a suicide bomber blows herself up in the bazaar I’m supposed to buy my food, and the President boils a citizen alive. And, things were just getting started.
During my first six months I lost 30 pounds, going from a petite size 8 to a tiny 0. Everything gave me Tashkent Tummy, so I resolved to living off French fries. The two-year tour ended with a bad case of dysentery for me, but that wasn’t until after the civil unrest in Andijan, our K-2 military base closing down, the World Bank leaving, the Peace Corps getting kicked out, and after I had been followed, spied on, and temporarily evacuated for potential terrorist threats against Americans.
My husband was mere seconds, yes seconds, ahead of the terrorist that stopped in front of our Embassy and blew himself up. I am lucky to be writing to you today as a seasoned spouse and not a widow. I had no safe place outside the Embassy walls. I distinctly remember talking on the phone to my parents one Sunday afternoon when I heard a click, and then nothing. I was later informed the cassette tape became full, so I was disconnected to allow the Uzbek government time to change it out. I am still very much paranoid and overly cautious of my surroundings, always wondering.
Our next three tours appear easier, in comparison. When we left Central Asia, we flew to the Jewel of West Africa. Ghana. A malaria zone. Where now I am told the pills that were meant to save my life are known to cause permanent brain damage. I gave those pills to my babies.
Within the first year, our house did not get enough electricity currents, so we lived on a generator for seven months. We had water and propane delivered weekly – just to shower and cook. Although, as soon as I’d shower, I’d start sweating again within minutes. I had to fight crazy bugs, snakes, and spiders from invading our house. Ants would cover any food left on the counter within seconds. It was like being on a bad camping trip that never ended. And to top it all off, in ten short months, I was MedEvac’d three times, incorrectly told my fetus was brain dead, and that I needed an emergency abortion in London.
The next three years we spent in Albania seemed like a breeze, a little slice of heaven. Outside the 15-ft, wired barrier around the compound, the guards with their giant AK-47’s, and the recurring bomb check on my car just to pull into my driveway. I was even able to brush off most instances when I was mistaken for a local woman. I could see why it would happen so regularly since I’m short, with dark hair and dark eyes. I only hope the bigotry was not lost on the ‘men’ that would drastically change their attitude once they learned I was an American.
After eight years of hardship, it didn’t seem we’d quite paid our dues yet. So, my husband went to Lahore, Pakistan, and the kids and I went to the beach. I allowed myself room to breathe. To take the necessary step to keep myself together as I tried to keep my kids stable during an unstable time. My five-year-old daughter cried herself to sleep for weeks, asking why Daddy didn’t love her enough to stay. She had tea parties with him through FaceTime on the weekends. Her spirits lifted for those rare moments his attention was only on her. When it ended, the crying started all over again.
I think most Americans are familiar with the challenges the Military faces upon becoming a family unit once again after a long deployment. Considering the high-stress, off-compound, lifestyle my husband endured in Lahore, during the same year as Benghazi, you can imagine it wasn’t any smoother for us. Actually, it was Hell. He was secretly evacuated in the middle of the night, leaving behind a Consulate that was immediately closed for several years.
Our reward? After four hardship tours we got to land in Germany. Our current post. Smooth sailing, or so we thought. And then we arrived shortly after the NSA scandal revealed it had tapped Merkel. There was a lot of animosity against me, as an American. In addition, there are the daily challenges I face. In my three years here, I’ve been refused service, assaulted for having one foot on the bike path, had a hit-and-run on my car, my husband’s bike stolen from our garage, and an attempted burglary in the hotel room of my husband during an official visit in Bonn. Even trying to find a hairdresser has proven to be difficult. At the mercy of their scissors and bleach, I’ve listened to hours worth of speeches on why America is a bad place, by people who have never visited a single city. All this, while still dealing with the many issues that come with the current refugee crisis and Trump backlash, i.e., my hair hasn’t been cut since the election.
It should go without saying, but lest I remind you, all these challenges were met without the support system of friends and family near, any military style training, or a lock-and-load mentality. We are diplomats, brand ambassadors of the American Dream, and promoters of peace.