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Friday, November 4, 2016

Uzbekistan, Here We Come

Image result for uzbekistan flag

And the winner is... Nick!  Followed closely by Kelley and Mindy  We're either very obvious about what part of the world we like to hang out in or you guys are really good at asking questions or probably both.  Good work on the guessing!

Now I imagine that a few of you are scratching your head about why in the world we're sticking with Central Asia... again (especially after the discussion about Brussels on Facebook).  Because really, once you've done one Central Asian country you've kind of done them all, right?  In Tajikistan they've got plov.  And Uzbekistan, too.  There are mountains here and also in Uzbekistan.  The climate in Tashkent and Dushanbe are nearly identical - short coldish winters with long hot and dry summers.  We're in the same time zone, with a five-minute difference in sunrise and sunsets.  We fly through the exact same airports (I was really hoping for a break from Istanbul, but no such luck.  Sigh).  And two of the most-visited cities in Uzbekistan are actually Tajik cities.  So yeah, it's pretty much three more years of the same. 

But there is some method to our madness.  Hear me out.

We are not actually leaving Dushanbe until May of 2018.  This means that, according to the usual way of things, Brandon shouldn't be bidding until next year.  But pretty much all jobs in his field that don't use Spanish, French, or English have a year of language training built in.  So if we followed the normal way of things, we'd leave Dushanbe in May 2018, spend nine months or so in language training, and show up at our next post in summer of 2019.

We've done that twice before, and I'm getting pretty tired of it.  Our family, in case you haven't noticed, is getting pretty big.  And it turns out that finding furnished housing for a family of eight in the Arlington area isn't that easy.  State does provide guaranteed housing through various corporate lodging programs, but the largest thing they've got is a three-bedroom apartment.  If the kids were in traditional school, that would be okay.  They like sharing bedrooms and we can squeeze.  I would only have two home during the day (what would that be like?) and there are lots of nice parks in the Arlington area.  But the combination of six children + homeschooling + a three bedroom apartment with a table only large enough for six people = a lot less tenable.  And I'm not going to even start talking about buying a car, only having 1,100 pounds of stuff, not getting the forty percent or so pay bump from being overseas, and adding yet another move to our crazy life.

So if you don't want to go through language training, what do you do?  Out-year bidding.  Out-year bidding is pretty much the exact (well, exactly the exact) same thing as regular bidding.  A list comes out, you look at the jobs, determine what looks good to you (and how you would look to those making the decisions), and start the email conversations that hopefully culminate in a job offer.  But you can only bid on jobs where you already meet the language requirement.  Brandon speaks (spoke, at one point) Arabic, but he can't take any Arabic jobs without training because his score only lasted five years and is now expired.  So that takes out every place in the world but... Russian speaking countries.  Good thing the good old USSR was such a big place, because it turns out that there are a lot of Russian-speaking jobs out there.

The initial job list was a little disappointing (do you want to go to frozen Moscow or even frozen-er Astana), but when Brandon widened his job search - political officers have a lot of flexibility and can do straight pol jobs, econ jobs, or pol/econ jobs - a lot of nice places (well, in the Russian speaking world) showed up.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  A Russian-speaking candy shop.  We could go to Moscow or Astana or Bishkek or Almaty or Chisinau or Tashkent or back to Baku or Kiev or Yerevan or Ashgabat or Minsk.  After last round's ...or Africa choices we had a lot of options.

Brandon and I have always wanted to go to Tashkent.  In fact, it was our first choice for our second tour.  This is not for a deep and abiding love of Uzbekistan or Silk Road history (well, that did appeal for Brandon), but rather for the housing.  Tashkent is quietly known in the foreign service as having fantastic housing.  I've heard the housing described as palaces and mansions, and a lot of the houses have pools.  Combine that with a good exchange rate, easily available household help, decent weather (for a Russian-speaking post), a good-sized COLA, decent hardship pay, language incentive pay, and somewhat of a tourist industry, and Uzbekistan is a pretty good place for us.

I wouldn't have minded most of the other places on the list either (well, not you, Astana or Ashgabat), but the job in Tashkent had an odd starting date, April of 2018.  Most summer jobs start in July or August because most people leave their jobs in July in August.  So an April start date doesn't work very well, especially if you have children in school.  But it turns out that we are leaving in May and we don't have to follow regular school schedules.  So when Brandon was stacked up against the one or maybe two other candidates for the job, he looked pretty good.  He already spoke Russian (saving them tens of thousands of dollars in language training), he was already working in the region (bureaus like to keep people who already know the lay of the land), and we could actually make the wacky start date.  Everyone was happy.  Me especially because that means that we don't have to do language training and we have put off living like paupers for our inevitable two-year DC tour.  Another three years of good living and cash-sacking and children getting old enough to babysit when we eventually head back to DC.

As with all prospective posts, I'm looking forward to exchanging the things I don't like at the old post for things I don't like at the new post.  After living in a country with no tourist industry, it will be nice to live somewhere that is better set up for doing something other than driving on extremely sketchy roads looking for mythical trailheads.  I will miss our proximity, however, as the mountains in Uzbekistan are a minimum of an hour away.  Brandon and I will be able to go back to Samarkand and Bukhara and see everything a little more thoroughly.  There's even a high speed train.  The city itself is a lot larger (bad for getting around) so there are things like play places and malls and water parks and more than five restaurant options.  And there are even flights in and out every single day of the week.  Crazy, I know.  Two of the flights even get in on almost the same day you leave Istanbul.  

All of this, however, is in the hazy distant future, as we still have eighteen months left in Dushanbe - if we had done things normally we would have just arrived six months ago.  But it is nice to know where we're going and even nicer to be happy about it!

2 comments:

Bridget said...

I loved reading about your decision process! Thanks for sharing it. Sounds like it will be a good fit for you and your family.

Brooke Stoneman said...

You guys are probably already following this, but I've been obsessed with National Geographic writer Paul Salopek's 7 year walk across the world. He is in your neck of the woods these days.

http://nationalgeographic.org/projects/out-of-eden-walk/the-journey/chapters/4-silk-roads/?sort_dir=desc

I look forward to reading about your new adventures!