Regarding why we do it. (Home Leave Reflections: Part 3 of 3)

We have spent most of this summer taking a long vacation that the State Department requires all Foreign Service families to take in between tours of duty. The Foreign Affairs Manual states that “the purpose of home leave is to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis.” We have been on the road for six weeks, visited 18 states, and seen a lot. This short series is my effort to tell you what I learned during the reorientation. Read part one here.

The journey has ended, at least for the moment. The car has been emptied and the suitcases stowed under the beds in our Arlington apartment, waiting to be loaded up again for our move to the Middle East in a little less than a year. Books have been put on the shelves, and pictures on the walls. We are home, for now, as much as any Foreign Service family is ever really at home. K and J explore local parks and libraries. I have become another one of the countless lanyard-wearing coffee carrying workers who scurry through Metro stations every day to staff the desks and sit in the conference rooms of our Nation’s Capital.

My mind often wanders back to a breakfast we enjoyed on an August morning in the middle of our trip. It was at a small restaurant in the neighborhood I grew up in. The building was once home to a bagel shop, before switching to a sandwich shop, both cookie cutter chain places. Now it’s an independently owned juice and sandwich shop, run by a family who hail from Mexico City originally. They serve up fresh smoothies and “aguas frescas,” along with a decent selection of breakfast treats that made us feel right at home. I chatted with the owner for a little while. He moved to the U.S. when he was young. Spent years waiting tables and washing dishes, saving up to be able to start his own business. Now he’s done it. The food was amazing . The company was even better.

I spent an awful lot of time over the last two years working on Immigrant Visas. The work can be challenging, and repetitive. It can come to feel a bit mundane. What makes it come alive is the awareness that each and every case represents the story of someone who is on a journey. Looking for something better. It was neat to wander into this little restaurant and encounter someone who had already been on that journey, and who is now living out the American dream, and making one part of our country a little bit brighter and tastier. It was neat to be reminded of why the work matters.

Now, as I ride the metro every day, and sit in Arabic class, attempting to get my head around the difference between ح and ه, it is tempting to fall victim to how mundane it feels. I liked our long road trip, and I liked being in the mix of things in Mexico, and I’m not sure I’m built for sitting in a classroom.

So I return, in my mind, to that little juice shop. I think about what a joy it was to speak Spanish with the owner. I hope I will eventually be able to do that in Arabic. To explore new perspectives and build new friendships in a way that only shared language allows. Language is a door to all sorts of exciting things, and I get excited when I think of the hundreds of Officers like me who are now studying dozens upon dozens of different languages. I think of the work they will do using those building blocks of vocabulary and grammar. The problems that they will solve, and the bridges that they will build. Nelson Mandela said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in HIS language, that goes to his heart.” These officers will be able to speak to the hearts of many by the time they finish their course work.

So I won’t fall victim to routine. I will remember that the work we do overseas has an impact back home, whether we see it or not. Everything is connected. And I guess that’s why we keep going with the endless and often frustrating cycle of packing, unpacking, goodbyes, hellos, unfamiliar places, new routines, and longing for what is left behind. We do it because we understand that everything is connected, and that our job is to use those connections to make the world a bit better. And sometimes that starts with figuring out the difference between ح and ه.


Regarding things that are bigger on the inside than they look on the outside (Home Leave Reflections: Part 2 of 3)

We have spent most of this summer taking a long vacation that the State Department requires all Foreign Service families to take in between tours of duty. The Foreign Affairs Manual states that “the purpose of home leave is to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis.” We have been on the road for six weeks, visited 18 states, and seen a lot. This short series is my effort to tell you what I learned during the reorientation. Read part one here.

On a quiet street in Rochester, NY, there is a small house that appears quite ordinary. Two stories, one car garage, basketball hoop in the driveway. It looks like so many other houses on so many other streets in America. One could probably drive by without taking much note of it. From the outside it does not seem particularly special.

The opposite could not be more true. When I step into this house I am reminded of the truth that a home is more than the four walls and a roof that make up a house. This house, like that old coat closet in “The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe” is a gateway to something magical. It is bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. For it is this house that was the stage for many of my earliest memories. It was here that my cousins and sisters and I would play tag and hide-and-seek in the yard and the basement. It is here that we would take turns hurling ourselves onto the floor from atop a bunk bed. It is here that countless hours were dedicated to lego construction projects, jigsaw puzzles, and board games. It is here that my Uncle and Aunt have lived since the 1980s, and where my Grandparents came to live with them in recent years. Every wall has pictures of my loved ones on it. Every room holds memories for me. This is a place where I have talked, played, sang, argued, and grown in the company of many people who have shaped the person that I have become.

This house contains far more than its modest appearance would have you believe.

Most families, like most houses, do not appear particularly noteworthy from the outside. They are ordinary people who get up and go to work or school, church and football on the weekends, an occasional cookout or vacation. Yet each family, no matter how ordinary they appear, is a living vessel of stories. These stories may be of joy, pain, humor, tragedy, redemption, or all of it mixed up together. And if earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, wars, cancer, and death teach us anything, it is that shared stories are what most endure in this world. When everything else is destroyed our stories remain, to remind us of who we are and to keep us going. Family, whether it is created by birth, adoption, marriage, friendship, or foreign service assignment, is how we keep stories alive. Family, it turns out, is far bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, and it gives us access to something magical and essential.

There is much in the life of a Foreign Service Officer that does not endure for long. We move often. We have to make new friends. Learn new jobs. Adjust to new climates, cultures, and diets. We can feel like tumbleweeds. This is one of the reasons that home leave is important. It gives us time to remember what keeps us rooted. It’s walking through a prairie with my Dad, and watching the Packers with my Mom. It’s asking my Grandparents questions about what things were like during the Great Depression. It’s huddling around old family photographs with K’s relatives, and trying to identify the old lady in a bonnet in a faded black and white photo. It’s standing in front of a church congregation, and pledging to pass along to J the same heritage of faith that has been passed to us, going back many generations. It’s watching as he spends time with grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, second cousins, great-aunts and uncles, and knowing that he is a part of this story, even if he doesn’t yet understand what that means. It’s arriving back in Washington DC and finding members of our Foreign Service family waiting to hear our stories and tell us theirs. It’s the awesome joy we feel at the approaching arrival of a new baby, knowing how much they will be loved by so many people.

We are all part of a story. Regardless of the damage wrought by hurricanes (literal and figurative) and the uncertainty piqued by change, we all belong. It’s important that we keep stepping through the doors of those unassuming houses, entering Narnia, finding our family, sharing the old stories, and adding new ones. It’s what keeps us going, and lets us maintain roots even as we spread our wings.

What I saw in America (Home Leave Reflections: Part 1 of 3)

We have spent most of this summer taking a long vacation that the State Department requires all Foreign Service families to take in between tours of duty. The Foreign Affairs Manual states that “the purpose of home leave is to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis.” We have been on the road for six weeks, visited 18 states, and seen a lot. This short series is my effort to tell you what I learned during the reorientation.

It’s awfully easy to read the news about America and feel a sense of hopelessness. Hurricanes hit, floods rise, mobs take up torches to preach hatred, and nothing seems to improve. The news is full of noise, and that noise does not often make America look like a wonderful place.

But what I saw in America this summer does not match what I see on the news. I saw a big, beautiful country, full of hardworking and hard-playing people who are making the best of what they have.

I saw people of all ages at the Iowa State Fair, showing off and admiring all manner of cow, pig, sheep, horse, and goat. I saw creativity exhibited in handmade quilts, furniture, dollhouses, and foods. The whole place, miles and miles of it, was an utterly unpretentious celebration of a big community and their hard work. I saw the pride that they take in what they do, and it inspired me to take pride in my own undertakings.

I listened to a four year old girl, the child of dear friends, passionately boast about the beauty of her backyard chickens. She reminded me of how important it is to love fearlessly and without shame.

I saw kids, black, white, and Latino, playing tag on a splash-pad at a park in Wisconsin. They were seeking escape from the heat, and finding a sense of community that we should all aspire to. They gave me hope that community can be built, despite our troubled history and present.

I saw entrepreneurs at work, at a deli in Rhinelander, a donut shop in Grand Rapids, and a daycare in Ames. People with remarkable gifts who are turning their talent into something that benefits their community.

I listened to a brass band on the street in New Orleans, playing tunes of such heart rending foot stomping joy that I thought the dead might jump up out of their graves and start dancing. They kept playing, even as a thunderstorm came rolling in. Celebration is among the most important things that we do.

I saw a crowd of people pack onto a beach and sit on the cold ground in South Haven, MI, to watch the sun setting over Lake Michigan. No music or fireworks. Just the simple rotation of our planet through space, creating an incredible show. A few days earlier the country had paused to look upward as the moon blocked out the sun. A moment of peace, reminding us of how small we really are. I remembered that I am not the center of the universe, and that realization is liberating.

I watched video of citizens knocking over a statue of a Confederate soldier, removing a symbol of a time when African American people were told, directly and indirectly, that they belonged at the edge of our society. I am called to love my neighbor, and sometimes love requires us to rip down idols of the past that prevent unity in the present.

There were moments of fear and pain this summer. We saw Nazis march in Virginia, and hurricanes rush across warming oceans and destroy lives. Yet always, in the wake of human and natural destruction, there followed armies of people responding in love. Nazis are met by those fighting for justice. Storm victims are offered shelter, and help rebuilding. America is full of people who refuse to turn tail when things get hard, but rather run forward, into the mess, hoping to help. I want to be like them, because it is right, and because we’ve got a heck of a lot of work to do.

The news may be full of noise, but it doesn’t reflect the America I saw this summer. I’m glad I took the time to look.

Regarding Hometown Movie Theaters…

They say you can’t go home, and they might be right. We recently spent a few weeks in Madison, WI, which is the city where I spent the latter part of my childhood. It’s been my hometown for more than twenty years, but going back after a two year absence was a bit jarring. Streets and buildings had changed. The old pizza place by the mall isn’t a pizza place anymore. The music shop I would spend hours perusing the racks is an empty storefront. The video rental store where I worked after college has gone the way of the dodo (done in by Netflix), and the unique group of people who used to work there have scattered to the four winds. The corner bar where we used to gather after closing shop at midnight has been turned into a pancake restaurant.

The most jarring experience may have been going to the neighborhood movie theater. I  have loved movies since I was a kid, and Point Cinema, with its stiff seats and sticky floors, was a temple for me. I was excited to come here with my wife for a date. But I felt lost as soon as we walked through the door. The box office wasn’t where it was supposed to be. The refreshment stand had moved and they had built a big fancy restaurant. We went into the theater itself, and the seats were all leather recliners. The floor wasn’t even sticky! What was wrong with this place? Who went and ruined it? Don’t they know how special this theater was? It was here that I went on my first parentless outings as a Middle-schooler to enjoy such 90’s gems like “Batman & Robin” and “Bean“. This is where I came to see “Saving Private Ryan” with my dad, and felt an encounter with American history that stays with me to this day. This was the frequent destination when I first learned how to drive, and where I would try to come when I knew friends were working the box office so that they could charge me cheaper admission. This is where I saw “Spiderman” the night it opened which was the weekend of Senior Prom. A friend took the movie so seriously that he wore his rented tux to the premier. It was here that I saw Maximus Decimus Meridius (commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, etc.) kill the usurper Commodus. It was here that I saw the penguins march, and Harry Potter take that first flight on his broomstick. Frodo carried the ring to Mordor, and the Fast and Furious sped through the streets of L.A. right here on these silver screens. So many movies, good and bad. So many moments with friends and family. I love this theater in a very special way. Why did they have to change it?

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Coming “home” is a tricky business for those of us who move around a lot. Our hometowns tend to live inside our memories as an idealized version of themselves. In my mind Madison exists about the way it did in the summer of 2002, when I graduated high school and was still driving a ’91 Honda Accord way too fast, back seat full of friends, to Point Cinema on Friday nights. Afterwards we would go to Perkins which, being one of the only places on that side of town where minors could hang out after 10 PM, was guaranteed to be full of more friends. That Madison is deeply etched into my memory, probably prettier and more perfect than it ever was in reality. Now, when I go back, part of me expects to find that same place waiting for me. And I don’t find it. People grow up and move on. Old buildings come down, and new ones are put up. Movie theaters are modernized. The people who live here are able to adjust to these changes as they happen. But those of us who return after prolonged absence find ourselves shocked and disoriented. We feel a bit lost, unsure if we can still call this place home. We question whether our memories are grounded in reality or are just fictions we have spun out of a combination of homesickness and malaria drugs.

Thankfully there remain touchstones to remind me that it wasn’t all just a dream. Spending time at my parents’ house, with its family pictures, delicious food, my old toys (now enjoyed by JJ), not to mention my parents themselves, gives me as much assurance of the past as it does joy in the present. Taking a sip of Spotted Cow ale, that rare delicacy not available for purchase beyond state lines, opens up worlds of memory to me. The taste transports me to the Memorial Union Terrace where I spent at least a thousand happy evenings with friends, watching the sun go down over Lake Monona. It reminds me of weddings and graduation parties, where it was the first and only beer anyone would think of serving. Visiting with those friends, even though we are all older, and even though our cars all now feature baby car seats, and even though our get-togethers are early morning play dates instead of late night mischief sessions, is wonderful. We grew up together, and the connections remain strong despite time and distance. And we still enjoy a Spotted Cow from time to time.

The Madison of my childhood and adolescence is essentially gone from the world, so in one sense I can’t go home. The places remain, but the context in which it exists is different. Still the memories remain, bound to earth and my mind by familiar people and objects, and stories told over and over again. So in that sense I can take a trip home simply by watching an old movie, or taking a sip of beer, or making a phone call. And sometimes…when the weather is too hot, and the bureaucracy of the State Department is giving me migraines, and the Spanish language is making me dizzy…sometimes that short glimpse of home is just enough. Like the good witch said to Dorothy, home is something we always have the power to find, provided we keep our Ruby Slippers close by. Home is more than a place. It’s a state of mind that comes from memories and relationships, and as long as we keep those close, we can always go home.

In which we get lost in the woods…

Last week we visited our old stomping grounds in and around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Rhinelander, WI. I’ve been spending time North of the 45th parallel for most of my life, walking amidst the tall trees and swimming in the crystalline lakes. I’ve hunted for orchids and mushrooms in the green days of summer. I’ve biked through landscapes of autumn colors that belong in a Van Gogh painting. I’ve climbed mountainous snow banks, and plunged into Lake Huron through a hole sawed in the ice. I’ve hooked walleye and bass as the trees begin to bud and birds return home in the late arriving springtime. 

This is a part of the world that I love and know well. The plants, animals, and weather are familiar. Coming back is satisfying and comforting, like pulling on that old hooded sweatshirt when the cool breezes blow off the lake for the first time as summer grows old.

K and I never expected to live here, and we didn’t expect to leave as quickly as we did when the Foreign Service came calling. But life takes us down unexpected paths. I thought about this last week as we walked one of our favorite hiking trails in Rhinelander. Hansen Lake trail is not an “official” trail, but rather an improvised network of footpaths that have been worn down over the years by hikers and mountain bikers enjoying the beauty of the small lake. There is no map, and the trail twists, turns, and forks in ways that are challenging to remember, especially when one hasn’t hiked it in almost three years.

I may have accidentally led K and J down a leg of the trail that lengthened our hike by a bit. This would have been fine were it not for the inopportune arrival of a summer downpour. We had the choice to turn back or press forward to finish the loop. We opted to press forward, only to discover that the main trail was flooded out and we had to follow a side trail that would take us back to the road which I could then follow to our car while K and J, both soaking wet, took shelter at a ranger station waiting for me to get them.

That last leg of the hike, alone, through mud, soaking wet, got me thinking about choices and paths. What if we had taken a different trail? What if we had turned back when the rain started? Would I be dry right now? What if we had never moved to Rhinelander? What if we had never left? What would our lives be like now? What adventures would we have had? What work could I have accomplished? What, of the amazing things we’ve seen since leaving, would we have missed?

Life is mysterious, and full of questions that are not completely answerable. I catch glimpses of what a life here would have looked like as I talk with old friends who remain. I get a taste for the good that is here, as well as the frustrations. The truth is that I don’t know if leaving was a completely good or bad thing. I think there was a bit of both. We love Foreign Service life, but there are things that we miss about being more stationary, like family, friends, routines. 

The one thing I do know with certainty is that it is good to come back to these Northwoods. There is some part of this place that is lodged in my soul, and that calls me back periodically, like the birds coming North after winter. Maybe someday, when we are old and gray, we will find a spot on the shore of one of these lakes to nest for a longer time, watching the sun set and listening to the loons singing their amazing song. Until then the journey will continue. There’s still a lot to see.

Regarding the Oaks of New Orleans…

The neighborhoods and parks of New Orleans are filled with oak trees like I have never seen. Twisted, hulking, green giants that block the hot sun and create whimsical tunnels through which to drive and walk. Some of them are thought to be more than 500 years old. Maybe it’s just us, since we haven’t seen big trees in about two years, but we found ourselves mesmerized by these oaks. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them, and I can’t stop thinking about them.

The character of New Orleans is a lot like these trees. It’s a unique, compelling, beautiful, and old place that draws one in. The tree lined boulevards. The stately houses with stained glass windows, giant porches, and picturesque gardens. The people, with their southern drawl and cheerful hospitality. The spicy, saucy, flavorful, and abundant food. Heavenly beignets, fluffy as a pillow on the inside and delightfully crispy on the outside, covered in powdered sugar that leaves itself on your face and shirt. The music is loud, brassy, joyful, and seemingly everywhere. This is a place with character. A charming, interesting place where it’s a pleasure to spend time.  This city is hypnotizing and beautiful, just like the oak trees.

But these trees did not become what they are overnight, or without pain. Hot summers and cold winters sped and slowed growth. Windstorms caused branches to snap and twist. Erosion and floods caused roots to move, and trunks to stand crooked. Lightning strikes or fires may have stunted growth. To ignore the trauma is to not fully appreciate what these trees are.

In the same way, there is much about this city that cannot be disregarded or painted over. Slavery and cotton were king here, providing the wealth that built the houses. Jim Crow ruled long and strong. Poverty and inequality remain common. Streets and buildings are scarred from hurricanes more than a decade gone. There are people without homes, and people being forced from their homes by the persistent march of gentrification. Bourbon Street, that dream destination of many a gleeful college student, strikes me as a brightly colored and foul smelling retreat for the broken. There is pain here. A past and present that are troubled.

America is a lot like New Orleans. Our past and present are full of ugly things, many of which those of us in positions of privilege would like to ignore. It’s easy enough for me to treat colonialism, slavery, and the genocide of native people groups like the unpleasant chapters of a story book that is not terribly relevant to me. They happened a long time ago, and I was no part of it. But these things, awful as they are, remain inextricable chapters in the history of this country. If I choose to own this country as my own (which I do) I must choose to own the sins of our past.

This can be hard for us white people to do. It’s so easy for us to state that we never owned a slave, or stole land from another people group, or voted for laws that denied others their basic rights, and then just go back to our lives. And we would be telling the truth. We are not personally culpable for the sins of our forebears. We do, however, sit atop the mountain of privilege that their misdeeds constructed for us, and we benefit from what they did. We live in the house they built, and we are now responsible for it. We also bear witness to the echoes of their sins, as so many of the struggles we face as a nation today are rooted in the decisions of the past. The Bible talks about God punishing children for the sins of their fathers, to the third and fourth generation. Many read this as the outworking of petulant anger by a small and vindictive God. I’ve come to see it differently. I think the writers of Scripture understood that the societal sins of one generation don’t just melt into history. When you cut down all the trees your kids won’t have any soil in which to grow their food. When you dump toxic waste into the soil your grand kids will get sick. When you choose to enslave an entire race, your great grand kids will die in a Civil War, and their great grand kids (and the great grand kids of the people you enslaved) will still struggle to mend the inequality that you planted. Actions have consequences, across time and across generations. God is not being vindictive. He is explaining the consequences of the choices that we make.

What am I to make of this world when my ancestors have hashed it up so badly? Again I return to these trees. Hundreds of years ago someone saw that there was a street or a path in this city, and they planted a row of acorns, and they tended to the saplings. Their forethought and work has given me a shaded place to walk, a home for birds, and a brilliant display of beauty. They didn’t benefit from these trees, but centuries later I do. The beautiful thing about the world is that sins are not all that echo across time. Good deeds do as well. Amazing things can happen when we choose to break the cycle of destruction, in big ways and small. We plant trees. We play music. We mentor children. We build useful things that will outlast us. We cannot undo the darkness in our past, but by acknowledging it and planting for tomorrow perhaps we can see to it that our kids, and their kids, inherit something better.

New Orleans, home of the blues, a glorious American art form that brings the joy of music together with the frustrating realities of life, is a place where we see all of this. The unhealed wounds of the past are on full display, as is an infectious atmosphere of joy and celebration in the present. May that joy in the present ease the pain of the past, and move us toward a green, tree shaded future full of music, friends, and amazing pastry.

Regarding the last day in Mexico

We left Mexico yesterday morning, and drove nearly all the way across Texas. The desert gradually receded, brown turning to green, and dry heat turning to humidity the further East we moved. The landscape around us is now totally different, but the memories are fresh.

I think back to two days ago when I did the same things I have nearly every day for two years. I can still see it all. I drive through the neighborhood, quiet except for the cackle of the grackles bathing in the puddles left by the sprinkler, past the man selling hot, tasty burritos from the trunk of his car, through the back gate of the Consulate, where the guards check underneath my car with a tool resembling a giant dentist’s mirror.

I am not early enough to get a shaded parking spot, so I know that the car will be an oven when I come back, but that’s okay. I walk through the gate and up the walkway to the front door, and I’m already overwhelmed by memories. Here is the front lawn where we bring our dog to run on the weekends, and pick on the other dogs (usually bigger) during our monthly “yappy hour.” There’s the great seal by the front door, site of so many group pictures, including one with the Ambassador when she came to visit a year ago.

I walk into the lobby, past the Marine behind the glass, and into the largest visa section in the world. I will not be conducting interviews today, but everyone else is. On every side I see our army of Locally Employed Staff and Officers running to and fro, pushing carts of case files to where they need to be. Rain or shine, the work of facilitating legitimate travel continues. 

I remember how overwhelming this humming machine of an office felt when I first arrived. So many strangers, doing so many mysterious tasks that I did not understand. But now the strangers have names that I know, and I have memories of good work done together in a constant and beautiful mix of English and Spanish. There’s Angel, who I went on an outreach trip with. Here’s Miriam, who I worked with to fix a hundred visas that were printed with an error. There’s Ana, who helps me pick apart complicated investor visa cases. A hundred locally employed colleagues and a thousand memories to go with them.

I sit at my desk, finishing last minute admin stuff before shipping out tomorrow. I listen to my colleagues interviewing applicants for Non-Immigrant Visas and I think about this work that I will likely not do again in my Diplomatic career. How fascinating to serve a country that both desires the safety of it’s citizens, but that also creates so many avenues for people to visit legitimately. Every day we issue visas to people seeking to visit their relatives in the U.S., employees hired by American companies and getting their big break, college kids making a go of it at an American school, entrepreneurs trying to make a business work. It’s all very exciting, and the memories, again, are thick. 

I’ve learned a lot from this work. A colleague of mine once said that working on Immigrant visas teaches you a lot about the law, but that working on Non-Immigrant visas teaches you about Mexico (or whichever country you do it in). I think she’s right. We do up to a hundred interviews a day each, and that hundred usually represents a good cross section of Mexican society. The elderly farmer, living off the land. His son, who works on the line in a factory, saving to put his kids through school. His kids, working to be architects and doctors. A society on the move, with economic mobility in its DNA. The musicians and artists. The border commuters who’ve had visas their whole lives, whose family and work exists on both sides of this artificial boundary bisecting the landscape. Mexico, and the border, are fascinating. And that story comes to the window every day.

At lunch time I slip home to say goodbye to our nanny/housekeeper. She’s been a wonderful presence in our family these last months, loving J well when K worked, and giving us a great window into the community as we got to know her and her family. It’s a tough goodbye.

As the day winds down I take one last walk from one side of the office to the other. I say many goodbyes, lots of hugs, a few tears. Most of the officers who are here now arrived after I did. Turnover happens fast. I think of those who were here when I arrived and have now been scattered to the winds, landing in France, England, Japan, China, Ghana, Honduras, Croatia, and so many other places. Yesterday they were here. Today they are a memory. Tomorrow I will be a memory. But the work will go on. I see the enthusiasm of my colleagues who are new here, and I do not worry for the future.

I head for the door, turn in my badge to the Marine, and I’m finished at the Consulate. I go home, pick up K and J, and we go for one last round of tacos with a special group of friends. We retell old stories. We laugh and cry. They hold the baby, who was still yet to come when most of us met. We make plans to meet again. In the Foreign Service life these plans are often little more than a pleasantry, unlikely to come to fruition. But with these friends I believe it will happen.

We go home, pack the car (it all fit!), and go to bed.

Now we are driving. Juarez is behind us Ahead is Riyadh, and much more. A hard Texas rain falls, forcing me to put the wipers on high. I watch as the thick dust of Juarez that cakes the hood of our car is slowly rinsed away by the rain. New things will come our way, but I hope that the memories of this first tour, doing good work in a great place with incredible people, stick.