Saturday, October 22, 2016
In the Foreign Service, I had the privilege of serving in Honduras, Oman, Pakistan and then, after retirement, I was asked to go to Singapore and now Brunei. During my years of service I had the chance to observe how things are done differently in every country, many times with the same or very different result. It's not that one way of doing things is right or wrong, but just different. The following things happened to me or someone I worked with at one of my posts overseas. For those of you who follow me on this blog and are members of the Foreign Service, I'm sure you can relate and probably have many of your own examples!
· You're driving and you need to change lanes.
o Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei - You put your turn signal on. The acceptable culture is that the car in the lane you wish to be in slows down and allows you to enter their lane.
o U.S. - Hell no! You can't come in my lane! I'm going to speed up and close the gap. So there! Often you end up passing your turn and making a U-turn to come back to it. Or you bully your way into the lane.
· You are pushing your basket down the aisle in a grocery store.
o Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei - There is a clerk sitting on the floor stocking items on a lower shelf. She has several boxes on the floor and there is not enough room for you to pass. You end up turning around and going back the way you came. She never looks up.
o U.S. - The clerk quickly stands up, moves the boxes and apologizes. Often nothing needs to happen because the aisles are nice and wide.
· Security has told you to vary your route driving to and from work (the embassy) to avoid being predictable.
o Tegucigalpa, Honduras - One route is pot hole-free as you know it. You change your route and hit 4 pot holes large enough to have their own zip codes. You also drive into a hole in the road that is missing its man hole cover, probably being used as a cook top somewhere.
o U.S. - No need to vary your route to work unless you hear a bulletin on the radio about a wreck.
· You need to buy some chicken for a fried chicken dinner.
o Bandar Seri Begawan,Brunei - You wander back to the meat department, following your nose. Chicken is in open cases, self serve style, each one with differing chicken parts. You pick up the tongs and pick your pieces. You also have chicken feet, tiny chickens and oddly chopped pieces to choose from. You shoo away a fly. The man next to you moves a few pieces with his hand, looking for just the right piece.
o U.S. - You look at packages, carefully sealed with 'sell by' dates printed on them, all marked USDA Inspected and monitored carefully by the people in the meat department. You can also choose from chicken in a glass enclosed case. No fly is seen.
· You and your friend want to go to the mall to do a little shopping.
o Karachi, Pakistan - You request a vehicle from the Security Officer, making sure there is a driver and body guard available to go with you. Once at the mall, you must stay together and not more than 6 feet from your body guard. Fortunately, you can go in the fitting room by yourself.
o U.S. - You drive to the mall.
· You decide you want to go to the beach for a swim.
o Muscat, Oman - It's June and a great day for a swim. You drive to one of the many beautiful beaches. It's 115⁰. You park the car and start walking toward the water. OMG...the sand is blazing hot! Half way to the water, you begin to run and by the time you get there, you have 2nd degree burns on the bottom of your feet. But the water is gorgeous and feels so good on your feet. You enjoy swimming in your shorts and tee shirt.
o U.S. - It's a great 86⁰. You walk to the beach, lay down your towel and ice chest and stroll toward the water in your ittsy bittsy bikini.
· You aren't feeling well, probably need to take something.
o Tegucigalpa, Honduras - You go to the drug store and choose from any number of antibiotics, anti diarrhea meds or strong pain killers. You choose 3 different medicines that you think will help it and pay the $5.00 for all.
o U.S. - You call your doctor and find out they can't see you for 3 weeks. You try the neighborhood clinic in the neighborhood drugstore and after 45 minutes of paperwork, they tell you that you really need to see your personal physician. You grab a bottle of Advil and hope it helps somewhat while you wait the 3 weeks to see your doctor. Three weeks later, you see the doctor and his $275 bill is all applied to your deductible.
· You need to drive your kids to school.
o Tegucigalpa, Honduras - You pile all 3 kids in the car and head to the school. Due to the security risk, you have your emergency radio with you and hear a warning that demonstrators have blocked the road to school. You struggle with an alternate route but end up having to go back home due to the threat of violence.
o U.S. - You pile all 3 kids in the car and head to school. You arrive 5-10 minutes later and pull into the drop off lane. Kids kiss you and head into school.
· You need a new pair of black pants for work.
o Bandar Seri Begawan - You go online, find a pair at a Big Box Store and place your order. You get an email confirming your purchase. You immediately get an email cancelling your order. For the next 2 weeks you exchange emails with Big Box Store with no one able to explain why your order was cancelled. Extremely angry, you search for an email address for Big Box Store. You find one in New York and fire off an angry letter. A week later you receive an email thanking your your business and patience and oh gee, we just can't explain why your order was cancelled. Please place the order again. And by the way, we will give you free shipping on your next order. Six weeks later you get your black pants.
o U.S. - You head to any Big Box Store near you, find the pants, try them on, pay for them and head home.
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
Homesick. Webster's Dictionary defines homesick as "sad or depressed from a home or family while away from them for a long time."
I've never really experienced being homesick. Both my children are grown and live away and have been for years. When I joined the Foreign Service, I sold my home, car, most of my worldly possessions and off I went. I was assigned to Honduras, to Muscat, Oman and volunteered for 2 years in Pakistan. Since I didn't really have a 'home', I never felt that feeling of being away. I have never really experienced being homesick.
I've been in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei for a little over 14 weeks now with a little over 6 weeks to go...and I miss my bed. I miss the routine that I established since I retired in July of 2014. I miss my new kitchen. I miss my car. To me, that sounds so foreign, so unlike me. I've tried to figure out if maybe I miss something else that could be causing me to feel the way I do but I can't think of anything. So I guess I am finally experiencing being homesick.
It's not like I'm unhappy here. I'm really not sad, as Webster's states I should be. I'm really enjoying the work, the people I work with and this lovely country. But something is missing. It could be that I spend too much time in the house instead of out doing things. But on the plus side, I'm putting my entire paycheck every two weeks in savings and am trying to spend as little as possible while I'm here. Most of what I spend is at the grocery store! I only brought 2 suitcases and am allowed much less weight on Royal Brunei Airlines going to Hong Kong than on American Airlines from Hong Kong to DFW. Besides, there aren't many souvenirs to be found here.
I might be feeling this way because I've successfully settled into retirement and am truly happy. However, the opportunity to work again doing something I love, earn a salary again and see more of the world was something I just couldn't turn down.