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Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Best-Laid Plans

 I am a planner.  I love planning and logistics and booking plane tickets and finding rental houses and putting items on the calendar and making schedules, something that Brandon is constantly grateful for because he loathes all of those things.  As soon as we even start talking about taking a trip, I eagerly rush to the internet to work out all of the possible details of this theoretical trip.  Brandon claims that there is probably something profoundly wrong with me for enjoying those things, but he can't complain because I happily save him from doing them himself.

Every summer I plan out our travel as soon as possible.  The day Brandon lets me know that the request for summer leave has come in, I give him the dates that I've already worked out months before.  I blame my mother for this habit, as she has been known to set an alarm on the day that beach rental companies start accepting summer reservations so that she can be the first in line.  

As soon as Brandon lets me know that he has gotten his time off, I start talking with the travel office about booking tickets.  Our tickets are paid for by the government, part of the sweetener deal to make places like Central Asia attractive, so the process of buying them is ten times more difficult and often two times more expensive than if we had just paid for the tickets ourselves.  Countless years of breath have been wasted complaining about the ridiculously antiquated system, but it's still in place because, government.  

I always start this process early because it takes so very long to get it all done and I never know what new complication will come up each year.  One summer his boss took four months to approve Brandon's leave because his boss was leaving and didn't want to speak for the next boss.  That year we got our tickets ten days before we left, despite asking for leave in January.  Another summer we had our tickets bought and paid for months in advance.  Then there was a coup in Turkey five days before we left, so we had to fly through another airport.  When I left to have William, there were fuel issues with Turkish Airlines and the flights were irregular, so we re-booked through Dubai four days before our departure.  I remember looking out the window of our plane and seeing the Turkish airplane that we were supposed to be on.  Another year, nobody wanted to give Brandon any leave at all because there wasn't anyone to run his section while we were gone, and those tickets were bought a week in advance.  Every year I think that I've covered all of the possible scenarios, but it turns out that I'm never quite creative enough to plan for whatever new strange circumstance has popped up.  I've come to be much more calm about the entire process as we always manage to get on the plane, even if the tickets show up the night before we leave (true story).

This year, we actually had tickets in our possession on May 26.  I had lined up everything perfectly for our fourth move, making sure things were ready months in advance.  Then plans changed and we weren't moving anymore.  Our dates for leaving were the same, but we just had to buy tickets to return.  It sounded pretty simple.  Just buy return tickets and we're done.  But, as this is the government, it wasn't simple at all.

First Brandon had to get everyone to agree that he could really stay.  The management here at post was thrilled to have him stay, but the management at our next post wasn't so sure.  It took several weeks of talking, but in the end they were okay with him not learning Kazakh.  Then Brandon had to apply for his job.  Since he was taking over someone else's job (even though it was in the same section), he had to bid on a one-year job that was created exclusively for him.  Next he had to have a handshake offered and then accepted, which took several more weeks.  Then he had to get paneled, and finally he had to get travel orders.  

As soon as Brandon sent me the travel orders, I sent them to the travel office.  They had to return the tickets that had already been bought and then reserve new tickets.  I changed the dates multiple times because Brandon is going hunting with his brother and we had to get that straightened out, which required more texts, emails, and waiting.  We also had to figure out how to get a PCR test in Anchorage and how long Brandon would have to wait in a hotel in Anchorage for results before being able to fly back to Tashkent.  

By early this past week, everything was worked out and I told the travel office to purchase the tickets.  Sure, they told me, just as soon as I turned in "the DS form."  Then we found out that Brandon had to resubmit his itinerary in another government system.  It actually accepted all of the information without any problems (which we had had when we submitted it the first time back in April because we weren't using Internet Explorer) until we got to the end and couldn't actually press the submit button.

He was able to submit the form the next day, but then realized that the people who had to approve it weren't in Tashkent, as both were on R&R.  He worked around one approver, but the second one got a phone call while in the Maldives and he approved it right before going snorkeling.  As of today, it is waiting on two people (who are hopefully not on vacation) in DC to approve it, so perhaps we'll get the tickets on Tuesday.  Or Wednesday.  As long as we get them before Saturday, I really don't care. 

Brandon himself has been pulling twelve- and fourteen-hour days this past week, and only had to work eight hours on Saturday to get ready for a big conference that will be happening the three days before we leave.  He is in charge of arranging schedules, meetings, hotel rooms, diplomatic notes, airport pickups and drop-offs (which always happen at 1 or 2 in the morning), and the myriad other details and emergencies that happen when multiple travelers are coming in from DC.

I had intentionally planned to leave on a Sunday this time, as our departure is always a furious rush of Brandon trying to get everything done and dragging in late the night before we leave.  I always spend the two previous days packing all the suitcases and getting all the details done alone and am crabby because I've been the one running the show without any backup.  

The last time we barely avoided a total meltdown at eleven o-clock the night before we left (and we always leave much too early the next day), Brandon had the brilliant idea of taking an extra day off before we left so that I wasn't left alone and he wasn't destroyed from work.  So this time Brandon asked for Friday off so that we had two days to get ready to leave.  He wouldn't be stressed, I wouldn't be frazzled, the suitcases would be packed by early Saturday afternoon, and we could spend the rest of the day swimming, having dinner, and getting to bed early.  Everyone would be happy with each other, our house wouldn't be destroyed from furious packing, and we wouldn't be wondering - as we do every single year - if it is really worth it to kill ourselves to go to America.  After all, the Maldives are always there.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to fight against the inevitable unravelling of all of the my plans.  It really would be easier if I just saved everything until the very end and let everything work out how it inevitably would anyway.  But I just can't bring myself to let go of the illusion that I am in control and so instead go crazy trying to make everything work smoothly and well.  One day I will let go, and that will be right about the time we quit working for the state department.

But for now, I'll go and find myself a paper bag to breathe into.  Then I'll remind myself that life is not all spent traveling and we'll have a great time and forget about all the trouble as soon as we get over the jet lag and start partying.  And then I'll go and waste time on social media for hours as a coping mechanism for dealing with the stress of packing.  And finally I'll get everything all packed, Brandon will send his visitors back to where they came from, and we will get on the airplane just as we do every summer.  And it will be another year before we have to do it all again.  Thank heaven.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

All Alone, Again

 Today, Brandon and I woke up at 8:00.  After making sure the smaller children got breakfast, we showered, dressed, made sure everyone else was dressed, and then started church.  I'm not sure what time it was, but it really didn't matter because there wasn't going to be anyone else showing up anyway.  In fact, there won't be anyone else showing up at our house for church until January.  So it's home-churching for the next seven months.

Our good friends left a few weeks ago, in a blaze of furious socialization, spending days together enjoying the summer delights of Tashkent and the long evenings together by the pool squeezing out the last drops of time spent together here in Uzbekistan.  We will see each other again, but never again living together in the same city, as close as two families can be without actually being related to each other.  I love that the foreign service forges such strong bonds out of often difficult circumstances, but I hate that there is always an end date.  I am sometimes jealous of my parents who have lived in the same house that they bought when I was three.  

So church has been much quieter for the past two weeks.  Luckily, we've done this several times before, the longest being eight months during covid when we saw nobody but ourselves every Sunday morning.  

But having done it before doesn't make it any better.  I can't deny that there are some upsides, however.  There's no Sunday rush to get everyone out the door or have the house ready for guests.  I don't wear makeup or style my hair, although everyone still dresses in church clothes.  Brandon always teaches the lessons, so I'm not responsible for any hurried lesson preparation on Saturday night.  And we eat lunch much earlier which means longer Sunday afternoon naps for Brandon and me.

As nice as those things are, it doesn't make up for all the things that we miss.  The children miss having friends at church, if only as a break from seeing each other all week long.  Worshipping together with friends makes the worship that more sweet.  Brandon and I also miss having friends at church and the sharing of experience and wisdom that comes from being together.  Also, our children behave better when there is an audience.  We all miss feeling like we're part of a unit, a very small part of the larger church of Jesus Christ, working together for the kingdom of God.  It's harder to feel that when you're all alone in a country of 33 million people.

But we'll be fine until reinforcements show up next year.  Thankfully we have enough people that Brandon and I aren't the only ones singing the songs or giving the testimonies.  We even have enough older children that can play the piano, direct the music, pass the sacrament, and run singing time for the primary children.  So it's not that bad.  But it will be nice when new friends show up.  Until then, we'll enjoy our long Sunday naps.