Since the day my bed was packed out of Chicago not even four months ago, I have lodged/lived in seven places, and I am not yet in my “permanent” home. That will hopefully happen in mid-July. Of those four months, about a month of that, some solid and some sprinkled, has been living out of suitcases. I guess it is good practice for a peripatetic lifestyle, but right now I just want to re-setup a home, even if it is just for a couple of years.
I did quite a lot of purging before I moved; several people figured I could purge more but by the end I just didn’t have the energy. When all of my stuff gets here I will probably realize there are things I don’t need. When my “consumables” shipment gets here, I will probably realize I bought too much of some things and not enough of others. I will try not to acquire too much more. The short time period bodes well for managed acquisition; being in a three-bedroom house, though, may just cancel that out. Time will tell. One thing is for sure—I must figure out how to keep my checked baggage under weight and my carry-ons to to something carry-able. I’m still recovering from the plane trips.
As I learned when I was first hired (and even earlier when I was hired to work the Census), government jobs have a love affair with paperwork—on paper. This week I dutifully and diligently attacked the task of getting all the boxes of a page-long-two-column-small-print checklist which was as much a scavenger hunt as anything. Every time I went to be briefed and hand in some form, I was presented with more forms to fill out. It appears paperwork breeds paperwork. The salutary aspect of the task is that I now know where many of the different offices are, to whom I need to speak if I need certain information or services, and how (now that I have been e-connected enough) to do most of what I need electronically from now on. I finished my checkin within my first week, only to learn that most people take much longer and some people never finish “checking in.” I guess as a teacher I find it hard not to finish my classwork or homework. At least the management folks like me . . . this week.
Here in Accra, you don’t hail taxis. Taxis hail you. I noticed that whenever I was walking on the street cars kept beeping their horns at me. I asked the guards at the embassy if I was walking wrong on the street and they just laughed and told me it was just the taxis trying to get a fare (silly naïve foreigner). Today as I was walking one block and then waiting for a friend for about five minutes, I was constantly shaking my head “no” – I probably turned down at least 25 taxis.
The taxis are all two-toned. Their front and rear fenders on both sides are a yellow or an orange, and the doors and hood and trunk are all another color—any other color. Of all the combinations I’ve seen, my favorite so far was a purple and yellow one. I’ve yet to take a taxi. I have been lucky to have embassy transportation and very warm and welcoming co-workers and neighbors. When I do take a taxi, I’ll probably choose by color. I’ll have to bargain with the driver beforehand for a price, preferably not too exorbitant of an obruni price (obruni are we foreigners), and I hate bargaining, but I guess I’ll get over it faster if I get to ride in a purple and yellow taxi.
In January of 2010 amidst a “mid-course correction” (my friend Carl’s positive spin off of the usual “crisis”) I learned that a long-held dream to join the Foreign Service was still and option, and I decided to put feet on the dream. I studied for the exam for two months, took it and passed it in March, wrote a series of essays (relying on some pretty tight editor friends) in April, received an invitation to the Oral Assessments (OAs–very involved interview/evaluation) in June, worked with some great fellow candidates to prepare for the OAs throughout the summer, took and passed the OA on September 7th (with several great folks that have either finished training or will soon start), uncharacteristically flew through medical and security clearances (not without thinking I had had or was having a heart attack in the process), had an offer on November 10th, sorted and weeded and packed out my worldly possessions acquired over several decades, and started training on Valentine’s day 2011 with the 159th A-100 class of Foreign Service Generalists (FSO — O meaning Officer) for the United States Department of State. Many weeks of training later, I landed in Accra, Ghana for my first posting as a consular officer–almost a year to the day that I learned I’d been invited to the OA. I’m still reeling.
Accrabatics are my impressions of being a new FSO in Accra, Ghana.