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Friday, June 26, 2015

Living at a hardship post

Dushanbe is at 30% hardship differential post.  In the Foreign Service, some posts are declared 'hardship' (think most places outside Western Europe) and then given a percentage of how 'hardship' the post is.  Theoretically, the higher the percentage, the harder the post, although there is always a lot of room for debate over which hardship is harder - high crime vs. lack of medical care vs. difficulty of travel - and I'm glad that I am not tasked with assigning those numbers.

Our two previous posts - Baku and Cairo - were also hardship posts, twenty and ten percent, respectively.  There are very few accompanied posts that are higher than thirty percent, so we're probably going to stop chasing a higher differential after Tajikistan.  Of the six years we've been employed with State, we've spent the last four and a half in hardship posts, almost as long as I spent in college, and are firmly committed to three more years at a hardship post.

And so, my life for the foreseeable future is living in places that are definitely not America.  They're not even Europe, even Eastern Europe.  And I'm fine with that.  

Everyone has different things they're looking for in a place they live.  When I was assigned housing the first day of my study abroad in Vienna, I was crestfallen with my assignment to a house in the suburbs.  I had spent my whole life in the suburbs and wanted to be where the action was, living in the city where everything was close at hand.  I wanted that so desperately that I convinced another girl, one who didn't care so much about city life, to switch with me.  This would be the only chance I had to live it up the city life before I retired to a middle class existence in the suburbs.  

Now that I have five children and have spent much more time living in the city than I ever thought would be my lot in life, I have long, fanciful, wistful dreams of that house in the suburbs surrounded by a lush green lawn and lots of parking for my minivan.  But that's because I have five kids and my taste for outside entertainment has waned.  It's hard to get excited about opera and ballet when all you want to do in the evening is spend some time with your spouse and sleep.  I still enjoy opera and ballet, but they aren't a crucial part of my happiness anymore.  Maybe I've grown dull or lost my taste for the fine things in life or realized that happiness is a simpler affair than it used to be, but whatever it is, that's how I am these days.

And so living in places like Vienna or London or Paris have no appeal for me.  I spend most of my day, no matter where I live, taking care of my family.  When school is finished, nobody in my family wants to go visit a museum, they want to go to the park or the pool.  And all of the delicious French food in the world still can't balance out the days we would spend together, cramped in a shoe box apartment (furnished at our own expense with Ikea), cleaning it ourselves after we finished spending all morning in the same room having too much closeness for anyone's own good.

I like having my very own courtyard to park my big, black SUV that I can drive wherever I want and park wherever I want (did I ever tell you how easy it is to park here?  It's almost as good as real live parking lots).  I love unloading my groceries and just walking them into the house.  I adore telling my children to get in the car, and they just walk out the door and get in the car.  We can be as loud as we like because nobody's above or below or beside to hear the ruckus.  We have enough space that everyone can be in a separate room with one to spare if they get bored.  Our school room has enough space for two room-sized rugs, a treadmill, a TV area (with another rug, couch and chairs), two kitchen tables, and enough extra space for Joseph to drive his Little Tykes cars in laps around the whole thing.  And that's just one floor of our house.

Sure, the house has styrofoam molding and conduits running across all of the walls and no screens in the windows (and they have very very large hornets here) and bars in front of the windows, but after a few weeks those things fade into the background.  The driving has its own strange logic, and you hardly notice the crumbling infastructure or broken pipes sticking out of sidewalks.  Because life, for me, is the same no matter where I live - I feed people, school people, keep the house clean, and break up fights.  So why do it in a shoebox in London when Brandon can earn 40% more for doing it in Dushanbe?  I have made my peace with living in places where nothing is ever quite square and nobody can cure concrete properly ever.


Every now and then a friend posts pictures of their vacation to somewhere that has things like green grass, butter smooth pavement, and order.  And then I remember that there are places in the world where central air conditioning exists and generators aren't necessary and molding is made out of wood.  Then the longing comes back.  I want to be in a place like that, where everything works like it's supposed to, and public spaces are well cared for and neighborhoods exists with trees and lawns and sidewalks.  I want a house with floors that are level and all of the light switches turn a light on or off and the toilet seat stays on for years without any fiddling.  I want to be somewhere that works.  

I talk myself back from that dangerous place, the one where order is all around me with no crooked curbs and holey sidewalks, the place that has to wait patiently for decades until I can come to it.  I am a child of America and I will never stop yearning for order and beauty.  But, as in everything in life, choices have to be made and I've made mine.  And so I stuff that longing back into the corner of my mind where it hides, waiting to catch me unsuspecting, and go back to my life of crooked lights, rusting playgrounds, and lawless driving.  It's okay, it's okay.  Life is not about where you live, it's about how you live, and who you live it with.  All of these things are props to the play, just passing backgrounds.  You have your family.  You have your health.  You have plenty of food and a comfortable family.  You are rich.  

But still, I miss it those green lawns and beautiful parks and order.  It's okay, though.  Because one day, I'll go back and it will be for good.  I won't ever leave and eventually the thought of a place where sidewalks happen only occasionally will seem like a distant memory.  I will have a house that always stays the same temperature and the doors all shut perfectly every time.  Lane markers will be ubiquitous and all roads will be wide enough for two cars to pass each other without even coming close.  Order will be so normal I won't even notice it.  One day.  Whenever that day will be.

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