Monthly Archives: July 2011

On reconciling idealism with working for The Man

I am pleased to discover that I am not the only person in my A-100 class who finds it draining to be “on” all day, every day. Besides the firehose of information we need to absorb, A-100 is a big social event. Talk to everyone. Network. Get to work on that Corridor Reputation.

Previous to the start of orientation, I was worried about working for The Man. I’m arrogant enough to know that I’ll succeed at this career, in whichever manner I choose to define success. I was not, however, convinced that I would be able to reconcile my need to make the world better with a job where toeing the party line is part of the job description.

I really believe that “American” values, like freedom of speech and the press, representative government, freedom from corruption, and gender equality can help improve lives all over the world. I also believe that a democratic world full of markets for American products is good for America.

Officer after officer has confirmed that my values are similar to their values, and core to American foreign policy. While being an idealist in the Foreign Service may be difficult, it’s certainly possible to make the world a better, safer place for everyone, not just Americans.

I’m still not sure about “the lifestyle,” where I’m going to fit in socially, and how Bertrand and I are going to balance family life. I am, however, finally sure that I am going to find this work rewarding both professionally and personally, and I think that after only two weeks of orientation, that’s a pretty good start.

We’re finally in DC!

“Home” is exhausting. “America” is exhausting. But having an American kitchen and a Costco membership is awesome. Bertrand and I moved into our Crystal City apartment last weekend, and we are thrilled with State’s corporate housing.

We did the math and we could actually get a nicer place in town for the same per diem, but the no-hassle factor makes it 100% worth it. No security depsit. No rent. Fully furnished. Utilities (including Internet) included. Free shuttle to FSI. Great view.

View from the balcony

A-100 is going well. Pretending to be charming every day is exhausting, but I’m loving having an 8-to-5 for the first time in my life. I’ve never had free time in the evenings or weekends before, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

Costco cart inside the apartmeent

The current plan is to cook, blog, read, and get to know DC again. What do you do with unexpected free time?

*You can now mouse over acronyms and jargon for a full explanation.

Home!

So besides the nauseating introspection about culture shock, what have I been up to? Well, I’ve been sick for the past week, which is miserable and not fun at all. Every time I think I’ve beaten one malady, another pops up to take its place.

Between complaining about my muscles, my gut, and my pregnancy, I’ve been shopping. The State Department is all about Being A Suit (because we work for The Man), and guess what I haven’t acquired after running an IT business in Benin and working in Embassy Cotonou? Damn straight, I needed some clothes. And jewelry. And make-up. And this and that and the other and now I sure do have a lot of stuff. Conspicuous consumption indeed.

I’ve also been visiting family, catching up with friends, cooking, signing up for a cell phone (see my Facebook profile or email me for the number), and keeping ridiculously busy.

This week I’m going to focus on getting healthy before class starts, prepping meals so that Bertrand and I have leftovers to eat once class starts, and catching up with friends before class starts.

On consuming and consumption

Coming home has been harder than I expected. As long as I continue to think of living in America as a short break from reality, I’m OK. The minute I remind myself that this is permanent, that even though we’ll be posted abroad, we’re back to living a life of comfort, consumption, and red-white-and-blue, I start to panic.

Yes, of course I’ll be fine. Yes, of course I’ll get used to it. Yes, I love Starbucks and being able to buy 5 different kinds of berries at the grocery store. Yes, I’ve done far harder things in my life. Yes, I’m still freaked out by all of the choices everywhere I go.

The difference between rich and poor is choices. I can choose to involve myself in my kid’s PTA. I can choose to pay for music lessons. I can choose to serve good cuts of meat. I can choose alternative sources of protein. I can choose organic. I can choose to take a day off of work. I can choose to pack up my family and leave for another country because an opportunity presented itself.

Bertrand and I were quite well to do in Benin, but that wealth doesn’t compare to what we have in the States, and I haven’t even started work yet. I hate those people who constantly harp on the ignorance and selfishness of Americans, and yet I can’t help contrasting how aware the rich in Benin are with how aware the rich in America aren’t.

Americans are so friendly and helpful and God it is amazing to be home. My discomfort with the wealth and conspicuous consumption around me is my own problem, not anyone else’s. I just don’t know if and how I’m going to solve it.