Monday, June 18, 2012

The Bid List and Flag Day

M and I quickly learned the secret to a long distance relationship: make sure you have a lot of frequent flier miles saved up. I flew out to meet M 4 days after he arrived in D.C. During this time we explored the city, met up with some friends and set up our new home (apparently M was unaware that one could not survive on ketchup and beer alone).

We got to meet up several more times, once for a Mini-Peace Corps reunion for a weekend and the other for Flag Day. There are multiple blogs on all the logistics behind Flag Day, and I couldn't really tell you much about them, but I can tell you about that day from my point of view.

A week into M's class he was given a list of available jobs in embassies all over the world.  We knew we wanted to be posted in sub-Sahahran Africa, for several reasons: a) it would be great for M's career b) it would (hopefully) be great for my career, and c) we both love it there. We knew from our first date that we each had a desire to return to Africa, since we had both previously worked and lived there, and we knew very soon after that first date that we would be returning together. So it worked out well that, while others were scrambling to compete for posts in European capitals, we focused primarily on remote outposts in West and Central Africa.

The instructions from the bid list, as I understood them, were: divide the list of countries into 3 sections- places you would love to be (bid high), places you were "meh" about (bid medium), and places you don't want to go (bid low). Warnings included: don't get your heart set on a post. Most people get places they bid as medium posts, and sometimes even low posts. M and I went through the list every night for weeks, discussing how we should "bid" each of the countries. The number of allowable low bids was limited to less than 20, and I wanted to make sure those low bids were filled with the Middle Eastern and Mexico posts. Our high bids were limited to several in Africa, and several in Brazil (because, what girl is going to turn down living in Rio de Janerio on the beach for a couple years? Hey- I can be flexible!).

While I was visiting M in DC we got to meet with his Career Development Officer (CDO) and discuss the posts. We told her all about our preferences and why we bid certain posts the way we did. We told her that our long term goals are to work in Africa and that we had three African posts we were especially fond of, one of which seemed to be especially perfect for us: Togo. The job in Togo was in M's cone, it allowed us to take French courses at FSI, it had several Lome-based health-centered NGOs, and we could bring our puppies!! Our CDO took some notes, smiled and reminded me not to get too excited over any post. We assured her we would be happy if we got any post from either our high or medium bids, and hey, if we got a low bid, we'd make that work, too.

A few months later, on Flag Day, we sat in a room at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, anxiously awaiting our results. To pass the time and relieve anxiety during the ceremony there are a few games that people play. The first is Flag Bingo, and the second is just simply yelling out the name of the country as the flag of the post is being projected. We settled into our seats knowing we might have a long wait- names and posts are not called in any particular order.

The first flag was projected. It looked familiar. Was that one of the ones we wanted? I looked at my list just as the entire room yelled out "TOGO!" My heart sank. The very first post was the one we wanted. There was no way. I sat back and tried to make my mind stop running. There were a lot of other good posts that we wanted. We would be happy anywhere. I looked up. M was standing up. He was walking toward the podium! They had called his name! His mother and I jumped to our feet, screaming and hugging and bouncing with excitement, and I'm sure, shocking the people around us.

And then it was done. So many blogs talk about how painful it is to wait until the end of the ceremony to find out where they are going. Knowing where we were going and not being able to run down the aisle, tackle M and smother him in kisses and happy tears may have been more painful! In short, waiting patiently and behaving like an adult is a real bummer.

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