My new favorite city (I think)

I still have many cities to visit. I’ve been to some pretty wonderful places, both in the U.S. and around the world. I’m thankful to have been able to see as much as I’ve seen and look forward to seeing more. Berlin and Istanbul and Barcelona and New York, London and Copenhagen and Ljubljana and Guadalajara and Washington, D.C. So many beautiful, electrifying places to see and experience (excited to add Accra to that list soon).

Maybe it’s the excitement of recent experience or the building sentiment and anticipatory nostalgia of almost being done with our Mexico posting, but at the moment, at least, I have to say a new Favorite City in the World has emerged for me: Mexico City. And I feel the need to spread the gospel of this beautiful place and its warm inhabitants.

While I’m not terribly fond of the kids’ school year stretching nearly to July, I do love the long breaks they get throughout the year: the three-week Christmas break, the last Fridays of the month off, the two-week spring break. We’re on week 2 of spring break now (ensconced in my parents’ home in Santa Fe, yet another lovely city I’ve had the opportunity to know) and I’m finding myself with an unusual amount of time to reflect and write. Week 1 was spent with Andrés and the kids in Mexico City and I can’t say enough good things about our experience there.

One thing that struck me about Mexico City is what an amazing blend of “old” and “new” worlds it is. I had to remind myself repeatedly that I was not in Europe but in Mexico. The streets and buildings of the city center felt far more like Europe to me than like anything I’d ever experienced in the U.S., Canada, or other places in Mexico (though, granted, my experience of other places in Mexico is still sadly limited). There are sidewalk cafes and cobbled streets. As Andrés and I sipped coffee and the kids nibbled waffles and fresh pastries I was reminded more by far of Budapest than of our temporary home of Ciudad Juárez. But there is a clear and omnipresent connection to the city’s pre-European past – most strikingly seen at one end of the central square, the Zócalo, where it’s possible to stand on a sidewalk with the city’s towering cathedral on one side and the ruins of the pre-Columbian Templo Mayor on the other.

One thing that was undeniably, recognizably Mexican was the warmth, pride, and generosity of the people we encountered. In all of my travels I have never met people more genuinely happy to welcome visitors and share their culture, their food, and their enthusiasm for life than the people I’ve come to know in Mexico. When Andrés asked a fellow customer for recommendations at a street food spot in Xochimilco, the man came over to us later to see if we had enjoyed the foods he had suggested – and seemed genuinely pleased that we had. When we were clearly perplexed by the purchase of fare cards for the light rail, a family we had casually chatted with in line ushered us over to the turnstile, used their card to let us onto the platform, and would not allow us to pay them back for our fares. Cab drivers acted as tour guides, telling us about their favorite sights and destinations, really with no expectation of earning anything in exchange for their knowledge.

We got ripped off, too (my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place, but I know nothing is perfect). We paid more than twice what we should have for our boat ride in Xochimilco and the touts were unapologetic about their scam. It was Good Friday, everyone was on vacation, and the boat launches were jammed with people. It was a great day to make some extra money and nobody, Mexican or foreign, was paying the “proper” set rate that day. The tour we took to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan was expensive and ran us through an overpriced tourist trap store and a mediocre (at best) restaurant where we were a captive audience for mediocre (at best) mariachis who knew most folks would still feel obliged to tip them reasonably well. But our guide was also incredibly knowledgeable and we learned things we would never had known had we gone on our own. It still felt like money well spent.

So I encourage everyone who can: visit Mexico City! Stay in the center. Take the metro (though at rush hour it’s kind of crazy). Eat the street food. Keep your wallet and phone in your front pockets (it is a huge city, after all) but don’t be carried away with worry. Enjoy the electric thrill of the crowds. Eat ice cream and churros. And go see Frida Kahlo’s house and then tell me about it: it’s the one great disappointment of our trip that, despite arriving well before it opened, the lines were already several blocks long and we did not get a chance to visit. Enjoy my new favorite city.

Two years almost gone . . . two months ahead

We are just short of two years in Ciudad Juárez, with just over two months remaining before we leave. The time seems to have just vanished. It hardly feels like months have passed, let alone years. My memories of arriving are as vivid as thoughts of yesterday or the day before. The only way I can really understand the passage of this time is to consider how much has changed since we arrived. A lot has changed, I have to acknowledge. So maybe two years isn’t quite as short as it seems.

Spanish has gotten easier. When I arrived it had been decades since I regularly used Spanish. Living in Oak Cliff I had certainly heard plenty, and I had helped the kids with their dual language studies at Rosemont, but it had been since my United World College days (some 25+ years past) since I heard and used the language on a daily basis.  It was surprisingly difficult at first, but I generally understand what’s going on around me now without having to focus intensely. I don’t have to practice too much in my head before tackling a new conversation. Usually I can respond to direct questions without sputtering and flailing (too much). I don’t have random words of other languages I’ve tried to learn popping into my Spanish sentences.

I also don’t get lost in Juárez any more. I’m amused and baffled by the thought that for a few days I had a hard time remembering which way to turn out of our neighborhood to get to the border crossing we use, or that I was once so confused crossing back in to Juárez about where to go and where to stop that a CBP officer knocked on my window to ask if I was OK. I must have looked intoxicated.

Marisela has gone from knowing only a handful of words and simple sentences to rattling on in Spanish just as quickly and tirelessly as she does in English. Isaiah has tackled physics and chemistry in Spanish, not to mention French and Japanese – taught in Spanish. They’ve both learned to love comida picante.

Andrés has become well-versed in an incredible array of visa classes and ineligibilities. He’s adjudicated well over 10,000 visas and has served as deputy fraud prevention manager at what we’ve heard is the busiest fraud prevention unit in any U.S. mission.

Isaiah has grown from a relatively tall but still “little” boy to a 6-foot-tall teenager. He’s had braces put on, adjusted, and removed. He’s learned to play tennis to the point that I’m a bit afraid to play him when he’s really on form. He’s started writing a novel and is further along in it than I have ever been in any writing project.

In addition to learning Spanish Marisela has learned how to swim, how to do long division, how to play the recorder and read music, how to play a bit of piano, and how to navigate friendships across cultures and over long distances. She can whack a piñata like nobody’s business. She can also use a sewing machine and bake a delicious cake from scratch, complete with real buttercream frosting.

We’ve taken full advantage of our proximity to the U.S. and visited family and friends frequently – multiple trips to Dallas, Lubbock, Santa Fe, and the Oklahoma farm. We’ve also visited the family cottage in Leland and taken trips to Big Bend, City of Rocks, the Chile Festival in Hatch, Truth or Consequences, the Davis Mountains and Fort Davis, Tucson, Las Vegas, Colorado, Cancún, and the amazing Mexico City.

So I guess despite it feeling like no time at all has passed, things have, in fact, changed pretty significantly during our two years in Mexico. We’ve accomplished a lot, grown a lot, seen a lot, done a lot. We’ve met friends we’ll never forget. And we still have two more months to go. The temptation is great to start to disconnect, to loosen the ties that bind us to Juárez to make departure easier, but I’m going to try to resist. Two years is a short time, after all, but there is still so much that can be seen and done – I don’t want to miss chances and make the time even shorter than it actually is.

It’s not all deep thoughts and melancholy

I often turn to my blog when I’m feeling blue and trying to sift through it all. So it probably gives a considerably skewed impression of just how blue I feel and just how much of my time I spend pondering arcane ideas about why I’m feeling blue. Thought I’d take a few minutes to share some things that make me very happy in my day-to-day here in Cd. Juárez:

The people. Love love love the people I’ve met here. From the other officers and their families to the kids’ friends and their parents to the wonderfully warm and patient guy who teaches us tennis this post is full of folks I’m delighted to know.

My walks. There’s a perimeter path around our neighborhood that – with a little imagination – almost makes my morning walks feel like a hike (minus any elevation changes). I cue up a podcast and make my rounds for an hour or so and the world feels like a wonderful place.

The food. For example: dangerously close to our house is a little joint called Taqueria Aaajiji. Thankfully getting there involves crossing a treacherous street. Otherwise I’d have to be walking twice as much to compensate for excess taco consumption.

El Paso. Any of my New Mexico friends (especially any Las Cruces friends) probably understand the extent to which I must swallow my NM pride to admit this, but El Paso is a pretty cool little city. The ballpark, the Plaza Theater, restaurants like Tabla and Anson 11 . . . growing up I definitely adopted the attitude that the only reason to go to El Paso was to get to the airport, but I grudgingly admit I’ve enjoyed having El Paso so nearby. But the Organ Mountains are still far and away more beautiful than the Franklins.

The climate. This is not something I’m guessing most folks would consider a plus as far as Juárez is concerned but I love the desert. I love the dry air and I don’t really mind the heat. Raindrops feel like precious gems here and very little is more nostalgic for me than the scent of rain in the desert.

Tennis. I love tennis, and while I tremendously miss playing sets with my friend back in Dallas, we have a fantastic coach here who gives lessons at the Consulate. He’s helped me correct years’ worth of self-taught bad habits and he’s helped the kids learn to enjoy the sport. If Isaiah ever gets past his current floppiness and reluctance to hit balls that don’t just land right within his (pretty significant) reach he might be a real contender.

Easy access to the U.S. It’s great to be able to see friends and family regularly. We’re no further from Lubbock than we had been in Dallas and we’re much closer to Santa Fe. It’s hard to beat that.

Happy Kristin, over and out.

 

 

 

The foreign service chronotope

I walk most mornings, generally in circles around our neighborhood, and as I walk I listen to podcasts. Yesterday I listened to an episode of a podcast called Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People in which the host had a conversation with a U.S. college professor who spends her summers in Paris, living with U.S. expat friends there and writing. They discussed the concept of “chronotopes,” which I never fully understood, though it intrigued me. Whatever a chronotope actually is, the caller and host were using the term to describe a set of circumstances that create a time and space that has its own existence, somehow separate from the rest of the world. The caller had heard the concept discussed at an academic conference and mentioned that it’s often used in reference to videogaming. She was using it in reference to her Paris existence vs. her existence at home. And it got me thinking about how much of my life seems to exist in a weird universe of its own.

Nothing bothers me more in my personal life than failing people I love. And yet I seem to be pretty good at it. I suppose we all are prone to this, limited beings that we are. I would like to think of myself as a considerate person, but I do have certain traits that set me up to fail people: I’m a forgetful person, and organizing myself to make up for the forgetfulness does not come naturally to me; I tend to try to accomplish more than maybe I should in any given day, leaving me more likely (especially as a forgetful person) to not be able to keep track of everything I should keep track of; I sometimes lose myself in details and fail to see bigger-picture stuff, or – in a different version of the same shortsightedness – might focus on the biggest things looming for me and in doing so lose sight of details that really matter to people I care about.

Living the dueling choronotopes (I’ll go ahead and use this word though I’m sure I’m using it wrong) of Juarez life and the life I try to maintain with friends and family back in the U.S. doesn’t help matters in this regard. Today I came to understand that I had really failed a dear friend of mine in the States. I had known she was experiencing some medical problems and that she had a surgical procedure scheduled. I had known that she was scared and in need of friendship and support. And yet I lost track of when her procedure was scheduled and I failed to let her know how very much she was on my mind and in my prayers (although, as it turned out, at the wrong time, as I’d remembered it being a week later than it actually was). Reflecting on this failure (for which my kind friend has very graciously forgiven me) has left me feeling frustrated and puzzled at the dissonance my two lives create. Why? Why is it so hard to reconcile these two realities? Why do they even feel like two realities? Am I just making excuses for myself?

Daily life in Juarez is not hard. There are well-stocked supermarkets and good schools and we have a comfortable home in a secure neighborhood. I have good friends and never lack for interesting things to do. Should I ever want anything I can’t find in the stores here I can hop over the border within minutes. Although using a different language to navigate this world adds a certain level of complication, my Spanish is more than adequate for the tasks I have to perform. But still somehow I get caught up in things. I get into this little bubble of life here and though I’m doing all the same things I would be doing anywhere else – the same things I was doing in Dallas – that other world inhabited by friends and family just on the other side of the border seems somehow distant and distorted. It’s an effort to keep up . . . when are my nieces and nephews starting school? When is my friend’s family moving to their new house? When does my mother-in-law have that eye surgery? Social media both helps and hinders, I think, making it easier to stay up on the superficial but also feeding a false sense of really knowing what’s going on, since actually only a fraction of our lives tend to be shared in these arenas.

But I also wonder how real this dilemma I’m feeling actually is. When Andres and I moved from New Mexico to Dallas our ties to New Mexico loosened. The closeness and immediacy of our friendships with people in NM gave way to a less intimate connection. Our sense of being truly engaged with the daily lives of our NM family faded. It’s natural, and I suppose it was even necessary in order to let us forge bonds and develop a sense of place and belonging in Dallas, our new home.

So why does this feel different? Why, despite being at an easy post in easy travel distance from friends and family, does this feel like a far more different life – a chronotope, as I’m (mis?)using that term – and one in which I’m somehow more removed from life in the States than I was from life in Albuquerque when we moved to Dallas? Am I just trying to maintain an unrealistic level of connection with a life I need to acknowledge I’ve left behind?

I’m not sure about any of that, but I’m turning over a few ideas in my head about how this all seems like a new thing:

  1. This life is far more different from my life in Dallas than my Dallas life was from my Albuquerque life. We live in a bubble, to a large extent, and we have a lifestyle, day to day, that is very different from anything we experienced previously (sometimes in ways that are not only unusual to me, but uncomfortable). We live in a home that is bigger and more ornate than anything we ever would have chosen for ourselves – not to mention the fact that we must live in a guarded, gated neighborhood, which is something we scoffed at in the U.S. Our kids go to private schools for the first time in their lives, and language and cultural differences also play a part in accentuating the other-ness in our school situation. These are not things I would choose and I don’t feel altogether comfortable in these situations. Except that I have to acknowledge that I have chosen them, by virtue of (together with Andres, of course) choosing foreign service as a lifestyle for our family. This stuff is part of the deal.
  2. We have met wonderful people and have friends here who are very dear to us and with whom I hope to maintain lifelong connections, but the face-to-face element of foreign service friendships comes with a set expiration date. It somehow makes these friendships feel simultaneously more intense and more fragile than friendships in the life we left behind.
  3. Our proximity to the U.S. messes with my mind. It feels like it shouldn’t be different (especially having grown up so nearby), and yet it is. And that throws me off. It feels like it should be a great opportunity to extend our close contact with friends and family in the U.S. (as opposed to what it would be like had our next assignment – Ghana – been our first). It is a great opportunity, and in many ways we’ve taken advantage of that, with frequent visits to Santa Fe and Lubbock and Dallas. But somehow there is the sense that this is almost a mirage . . . something temporary and not to be entirely trusted.
  4. There is a constant sense of the fleeting nature of all things associated with FS life that makes it feel both more necessary and also more difficult to maintain deep roots back in the U.S.

All of this notwithstanding, I do not in any way regret the life we’ve chosen. I have to remind myself that – in the scope of my nearly 45 years – this is still a very new venture. In January we’ll be two years in, and just a year and a half at our very first post. I know I’m still processing it all, and will have to process each move as it comes, although I assume and hope I will develop a certain level of skill in dealing more gracefully with the lifestyle as a whole. I love all my people. In all my chronotopes. I am truly, truly thankful for the many incredible people I love and who love me, near and far, and I hope they can bear with me as I figure out how to weave them into my life in such a way that these cherished friendships don’t unravel.

On being said goodbye to vs. saying goodbye

We knew this, of course. Intellectually. It’s much harder to be the people left behind than to be the people who leave. When we left Dallas it was hard. We were breaking away from the friends and places and routines of the last 12 1/2 years of our lives. It was the only home the kids ever knew – practically their entire universe, contained within a few square miles. And yet we were heading into a new adventure that required total engagement and it was impossible not to be at least distracted from our grief, if not dissuaded from it.

Less than four months later it was goodbye again. We were among the first in Andrés’ training group to leave the Washington, DC area for post. Knowing that timetables are usually tight, foreign service people don’t mess around when making friends. We had very quickly forged close friendships and it was not easy to once again leave everything behind. But this time we had an even more absorbing project ahead of us: settling in to our first post, where we would live for two years. Living not just in a new city but in a new nation with a new (albeit familiar) culture and language. And the consulate community in Juárez was incredibly welcoming, so we quickly had new friends to add to our ever-growing collection.

And so it continued for a year. We’ve stayed in touch with our Dallas friends and paid a few visits, keeping those ties as strong as we can. Our proximity to the U.S. means we’ve been able to see family at least as often as we did when we were in Dallas. And Marisela, in particular, has been a letter-writing and craft-making champ, sending notes and drawings and rubber band bracelets around the globe. Despite the fact that our foreign service friends have now made their way to locales as widespread as Mauritius and Italy and Nepal and Indonesia and Belgium we have done, I’d say, a reasonable job of keeping connections alive.

But a week ago today, for the first time we were the left rather than the leavers. We met Abhisneha, briefly, during our first full day in Ciudad Juárez. We were touring the school that would eventually become Marisela’s, and Abhisneha was already attending. When, later in the summer, Marisela and Abhisneha had the chance to spend more time together, they became very fast friends. Over the next year they learned together, painted together, sang together, giggled together, gardened together, and just constantly grew in affection for one another.

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We said goodbye to Abhisneha, her five siblings, and her parents last week and now we’re learning how tough it is for life to just keep going as if nothing is different when it feels like everything is different. It’s a bit easier for the older members of the family to remain philosophical about this. Isaiah really liked Abhisneha and her family but they were not daily fixtures of his life. But for Marisela this is a huge loss. Her world has once again, for the third time in about a year, entirely shifted under her feet and this time there’s no distraction to dull the pain. Thankfully, she still has a very close friend in the consulate community who is also in her class at school, and she has local friends at school as well. But I imagine she can’t help but be thinking ahead to the end of this year when that other consulate friend, too, will be on her way to her family’s next post.

And that brings me to a thought that has recurred for me many times over the challenging year and a half we’ve spent so far in the foreign service. For as long as I can remember I have known the passage from Thessalonians about giving thanks in all circumstances. Somehow it has taken me decades of life and this period of intense emotional trials to actually feel like – sometimes, at least – I not only understand but truly appreciate what it means to do that.

Marisela struggles intensely with anxiety. We have had some exhausting, incredibly painful times over the last several months as she has battled with it, and this latest blow has definitely reawakened the amygdala-dwelling beast she has named “Stinky” – the voice of her most primal and hard-to-control fears. And yet somehow I can, with complete honesty, say that I am thankful for all that we have experienced in this year and a half. Somehow I can say I am thankful, even, for the mornings like the one I had today – a morning when Stinky was in full control and it was tough to get Marisela out the door and off to school (where, thanks to my dear friend Mimi who is chaperoning a field trip, I know that she is thriving and having a great day).

I don’t believe it is my own goodness or strength that allows me to experience this thankfulness (the goodness and strength I possess are pretty wobbly in and of themselves). I know that many of my friends do not share my particular faith or subscribe to any particular faith at all, but I personally can only make sense of this as a gift of grace from the Holy Spirit. It is a perspective that I do not believe I am capable of having on my own: the perspective that shows even these times of intense pain as life-affirming, spirit-building, and ultimately part of what makes life a beautiful experience.

A little over 26 years ago I graduated from an international boarding school. It’s a two-year school, so although I was together with the friends in my graduating class for two years, I was only together with those in the classes above or below me for one school year. One or two school years, approaching 30 years ago, and I still feel a close bond to many of my UWC classmates. So when I wonder and worry about whether my kids will really experience close friendships when their lives are so very riddled with leaving and being left, I think about my UWC years. The friendships were so intense, the parting so hard, but the connections lifelong. So very much to give thanks for.

 

Gotta Go to Ghana

So we finally did get the bid list. I think it came a month, more or less, past the time we were first hoping it might arrive. In fact, it came exactly at the point at which I’d stopped thinking about it, and certainly beyond the point at which I had convenient blocks of time to work with it. May has been packed to bursting with good and bad. Lots of fun, many outings and dates and cool things going on with the kids at their schools. But also a round of viruses the likes of which I never remember encountering this far into spring. It’s been an interesting time, to say the least, at which to need hours to devote to the eye-straining task of sifting through a State Department bid list.

For those of you not State Department affiliated, here’s the quickest summary I can give of the second-tour bidding process (well, it’s not quick at all, actually – but it may be in fact the quickest summary I am capable of giving, as I like details): first, all the officers who started at their first post more or less when Andrés did were organized into groups based on the level of hardship at their current post. Our 20% hardship in Juárez put us (barely) into the first group. Then the list went out. It’s a formidable document with, give or take, 350 positions listed. Each position has an estimated start date – a target arrival month for that job at that post. We were tasked with taking that 350-post list and whittling it down to 30.

This kind of thing is just not Andrés’ cup of tea. And although I will probably be happy to complain about doing it, I actually find a nerdy enjoyment in combing through minute details. So I volunteered to do the legwork, figuring out which of the 350 were even viable so we could then eke out our 30 to submit. The first sweep was easy: we can’t serve in Mexico again for our second tour. Second sweep: easy to get rid of posts for which a new language is required, but that start not long after we leave Ciudad Juárez (can’t learn French to FS standards in three weeks). Third sweep: remove jobs that aren’t consular (Andrés’ focus within foreign service – and because there’s huge consular need this didn’t eliminate a huge number of jobs). Fourth sweep: also easy to get rid of places Andrés and I agree we just don’t want to go. We’re pretty cool with most places, but don’t want to land somewhere with a security situation so tight we won’t have much freedom of movement. Especially considering that Isaiah will be in his mid-teens at our next post, we really don’t want a gilded cage situation.

That part was easy. But we still had, I don’t know, probably 100 posts left. Lots of really great posts. It was exciting. But lots of work remained to be done. And that’s where it got less exciting. Because at this point there was no avoiding diving in to the picky details of timing. We are, in theory, supposed to leave Juárez in May, 2017. At some point between posts we must take home leave, which is 20 – 30 work days (so that’s one spot where we have wiggle room in timing). Each job has different training requirements – language is the primary type of training we had to look at since we were honed in on consular jobs and Andrés has already been through consular training. Then there are a few days we can plan on for “consultations,” which basically gives us another week of wiggle room.

In making up our 30-post bid list, at least 20 of those bids have to be “perfect,” meaning we leave Juárez in May and arrive at our new post in whatever month the bid list designates for that particular job, with no awkward gaps between departure, home leave, training, and arrival. This is where I came to my first very disappointing moment. Every single language-designated post was imperfect for us, meaning we would have to request an extension of our time in Juárez in order to avoid a gap between departing, doing our home leave, and starting language training in September. We have no problem with the notion of extending. Given the demand for consular work in Juárez and the abundance of housing here, I’m guessing the powers that be here at the CDJ Consulate would have no objection to Andrés extending. But that still means that we can only bid 10 out of our 30 bids for language-designated posts (other than Spanish, which Andrés already has). 20 have to be for either English- or Spanish-designated jobs.

That was a bummer. Because we’re thoroughly enjoying Juárez but are hoping to not do back-to-back Spanish-designated tours. And on this particular list the English-designated posts are not in Botswana or Tanzania or Namibia. They’re in Dublin and Toronto and Sydney and such. I know: cry me a river . . . you have to bid on English-speaking posts in the developed world. Boo hoo. But seriously, those are not places we are super enthused about going. They just aren’t. And sadly enough for us, of the two English-designated consular posts in Africa, one is not a perfect timing match and the other is in a country we’d love to serve in, but that does not have high school education available at post (which Isaiah will need – and I’m not quite ready to send him to boarding school yet, even if I did go myself when I was not much older).

So our once-very-long and robust list was suddenly feeling less inspiring. I dug back through and salvaged a few English-designated jobs at African posts that aren’t consular jobs. There’s not a chance Andrés will get them – too many of his non-consular colleagues need those jobs to get experience in their chosen areas – but they will allow us to knock a few places off the list that we don’t want to go. We’ve spent several days now arranging and rearranging the list and we’re pretty happy with it, but we’re certainly crossing fingers that we can get a nod for one of the “imperfect” posts.

Our top five posts are all imperfect. Four are language-designated and our super-duper fingers-crossed number one is Accra, which just has the wrong start date for our schedule. Here’s what gives us hope, though: often, people who serve at 20%-and-up hardship posts for their first tour very reasonably take advantage of their early choice in the bidding process to pack their top 10 with places like Paris, London, and Rome – places designated zero hardship. The lowest hardship of any of our top five is 10%. Most are right around the 20% hardship we have here in Juárez. We’re hoping State Department will see this as a win-win . . . a good consular officer will be around to help out for a couple of extra months at a very, very busy consulate that could certainly use the help, and then will cheerfully take up a consular position at a second hardship post. That should work, right?? We’re certainly hoping so.

Our top five, by the way: Accra, Colombo, Ho Chi Minh City, Muscat, and Ulaanbaatar. Your geography lesson, boys and girls (who aren’t FSOs or EFMs), is figuring out where exactly those cities are. We would be beyond delighted to go to any of them. Start saving your frequent flyer miles, friends and loved ones. Our motto for bidding season: Gotta Go to Ghana!

Year 1 in pictures

I haven’t done much in the way of incorporating photos here, so this will be something new and different. A photographic retrospective of our time since leaving Andrés’ training last May . . .

First, our trip from VA to CDJ . . . through Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas . . .

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And our first days in Juárez, sampling local cuisine, meeting neighbors, finding a church to attend (with the bonus of delicious shaved ice to enjoy after the service) . . .

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Summer featured water park fun, a trip back to visit Dallas friends, a family reunion at the Dyche farm in Oklahoma, tennis lessons, and visits to some New Mexico landmarks.

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Then school started!

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Mexican independence day (16 de septiembre) brought celebrations at school and the Consulate, and a visit from our cousin/uncle Steve Higley . . .

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October took us back to the U.S. again, this time to Colorado to celebrate the wedding of Andrés’ Peace Corps buddy, Bill.

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It was pretty cool when cousin Ethan’s high school band accompanied their football team to a game just a few miles up the road in El Paso. And Marisela and I also paid a visit to family friend Armando for cuts and styles at his salon in Las Cruces, just like my sister and Mom and I used to do.

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Halloween featured trick-or-treating in Mesilla Park, the Las Cruces neighborhood where I grew up. Here the kids are in front of my childhood home. We also enjoyed Día de los Muertos. Marisela and her friend Abhisneha had fun making altares with their classmates at school.

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And then birthday/holiday season was upon us . . .

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One of the local employees at the Consulate invited us to a mass, followed by dancing and celebration at his family’s home, in celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I remember elementary school friends dancing in the village of Tortugas, outside Las Cruces, on this feast day.

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After Christmas and New Year’s we were off to Cancún for a week of blissful relaxation.

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Not exactly sure where February went. I guess it wasn’t very picturesque. Because next thing you know we’re at Big Bend for spring break.

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And then at Trinity Site. I’m sure we’ve all changed over the course of the year, but if you scroll back up to the picture of the kids and Andrés with the turquoise convertible at Graceland you will see why I am still scratching my head and wondering where my little boy went.

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And that’s pretty much it up to now. Thanks to all for your constant love and support.

Finally saying goodbye to Oak Cliff

I still think of it as a white house, though for years it’s been gray. It’s a lovely house, brick, two stories, on a corner, and really an anchor of its block and blocks around, not only architecturally but because it’s inhabited by people who have poured their hearts into the life of the neighborhood year after year. I think during his infant and toddler days there were probably weeks in which Isaiah spent as many of his waking hours in that house as he did in our own. It’s the scene of Marisela’s first ever sleep-over and of many, many tea parties and makeovers. I’ve spent countless hours at the kitchen counter, or in a cozy living room chair, or on the front steps on a sun-soaked afternoon, sipping tea (or a glass of wine), and chatting, and watching babies turn into toddlers turn into children, and laughing. And now, close to two years after we sold our own Dallas home, and nearly a year and a half since we left, it’s the impending sale of this not-white-anymore house that has us all reflecting on the reality of our departure.

Our friends who live in that house are finally following a long-held dream of leaving the city and living a small-town life with a lot of outdoor space to enjoy. I wasn’t really aware yet of the depth my own feelings when I excitedly showed Marisela a photo of their new country home, nestled idyllically among trees, beyond a winding road and a pond. I had expected gasps of excitement and appreciation. Instead there was silence. Then shocked surprise. Then utter deflation.

Not long after that, Marisela had a Skype chat with one of her best friends in Dallas. They had exchanged letters since we’d arrived in Mexico but hadn’t Skyped since we left Falls Church. They had an animated, almost giddy conversation and Marisela carried her tablet around to show Sabrina our home and her garden and photos of some of her Juárez friends, but after their conversation was over Marisela was subdued and thoughtful. “Sabrina looks different,” she told me when I asked what was on her mind. “She looks really, really different.”

I can’t say our adjustment to foreign service life has been effortless up to this point. It’s certainly had its rough moments for all of us. We’ve missed friends, we’ve missed our close-knit neighborhood, we’ve struggled to keep up with the rapid pace and tremendous volume of change in our lives. But one thing that was quite reassuring was that Dallas, and our little Oak Cliff corner of it, seemed to be essentially the same. Sure there were a few changes: a couple of friends moved from one Oak Cliff neighborhood to another; middle school started and several of Isaiah’s pals left our neighborhood school for private schools or magnet schools. But nothing happened that was nearly as monumental as that gray house suddenly no longer being the anchor it once was.

As I sit here thinking about how disconcerting it has been for us to realize that life has continued in Dallas without us it occurs to me how very much our foreign service experience thus far has made me think about place and the meaning of place. I’ve written a lot about the strangeness of being posted so close to my childhood home, and in a city I had visited many times as a child. And I realize now that the feelings that proximity has evoked are the yin to the yang of our mourning over the loss of the familiar comforts of the Oak Cliff we knew and loved. Because what I’ve found in returning to this part of the world is how much it still means to me, despite decades of changes.

So while it’s tempting to say, as is often said in foreign service circles, that we take home with us, and that a true sense of home is about the people we love, who continue to be either physically or emotionally close to us, I think it’s actually far more complex. We come to value a place, at least in part, because people we love make that place valuable to us. We forge memories with particular people and in a particular geographic setting, and that setting becomes significant. And so it cuts deep when the people and the place don’t overlap anymore. It feels like something has toppled, tumbled down and pulled those memories along with it. Visiting Las Cruces, though, and feeling the warmth and melancholy and delight and sadness I feel as I pass through those familiar streets I realize that even with so many of the people who made Las Cruces home to me gone, the love remains. It was imprinted in me, waiting to be awakened.

I can imagine one day Isaiah and Marisela, grown, driving through Oak Cliff and passing by a once-white, maybe-still-gray house, and stopping, and knowing how much love they learned inside. And there will be a pang, and maybe even a tear, but their hearts will be full.

Eleven months, eleven paragraphs

 

Word has it that our bid list – the list of possible jobs/locations for Andrés’ next post – will be released this week. So while I’d been toying with the notion of doing a glancing recollection of our first year in Ciudad Juárez next month, at roughly our anniversary mark, I’ve decided to time to look back is now. I have this notion (accurate or not time will tell) that once we begin the bidding process it will be hard not to see our life here through the lens that forward trajectory. So here’s a sketch of my first nearly-year of memories, untainted by any notion of what lies ahead.

May 2015

It was a glorious road trip to get here from Virginia. Tennessee is impressively wide. And green and rolling and melodic and delicious. Texas is known for its bigness so that came as no surprise. It was nice to be back in the kids’ home state, and our stay in the hill country was relaxing and lovely. Entering the Chihuahuan Desert and smelling the distinctive greasewood smell (it had to have rained recently) and seeing the yucca and the mountains and tuning in to the New Mexico State University NPR station I’d been hearing since before I cared to listen . . . a surreal, delightful, wistful, sweet moment. Juarez itself did not look nearly as foreign as any of the places we’d dreamed of landing. Though I have to say, having spent a year in two-bedroom apartments, our giant house with its many tiled surfaces was a bit disconcerting.

June 2015

Summer was a strange in-between time for the kids and me. School in Mexico lasts into July so we opted to homeschool for a month or so after our arrival and then call it done. Andrés was learning the visa-adjudicating trade, which was exhausting. We had met many lovely families in the Consulate community, but those with kids in Juárez schools were still in school mode. So we were quite free, really, to do our own thing. We visited friends in Dallas and went to a family reunion in Oklahoma and spent some time on the way back with family in Lubbock. The ease of travel to visit our friends and family did nothing to diminish our sense that Juárez is a most unusual place to have landed in the foreign service. Not complaining at all, but it was and is a strange spot to be in when you’ve spent as much time as we did preparing to go somewhere utterly out of our known spheres.

July 2015

July in Juárez is hot. I had known this, remembered the desert heat of my childhood, but what I hadn’t realized was that temperatures in Las Cruces, a mere 45 or 50 miles away, tend to be as much as 10 degrees cooler than temperatures in El Paso and Juárez. Of course, as the cliché goes, it’s a dry heat. And it is, and that does make a difference. I’d take a Juárez summer over a Dallas summer any day. We found a water park with $4 admission and spent many a summer day enjoying paletas poolside. Isaiah became adept at asking “Cuándo abren los tobáganes?” or “When are you guys going to open the slides?” It makes sense in the desert – the water slides only operated a few hours each day. It was a cultural adjustment for Isaiah realizing that the posted operating hours for the slides weren’t necessarily reliable.

August 2015

School. The kids had attended a dual language public school in Dallas for the vast majority of their school-attending lives but school in Mexico was still a big change. Isaiah started at the academically intense, very structured bilingual school he had picked and Marisela started at the homey, family-style (100% Spanish) Montessori school she had picked. Both impressed us with their incredible flexibility and bravery and seemed to thrive right away. I got a small taste of what it’s like to be linguistically and culturally separated from my kids’ school experience – like so many of the Mexican families of kids at the school the kids had attended in Dallas. And yet I had the undeniable (though uncomfortable) benefit of class privilege working in my favor. It gave me new insight into how intimidating it must be for immigrant families putting their kids in school in the U.S.

September 2015

Mexican independence day is the 16th of September. We were lucky enough to have my cousin, Steve, visiting on that occasion. There’s a restaurant in Juárez called Viva México. They serve a variety of traditional Mexican dishes and put on a no-holds-barred stage show during dinner – horses, mariachis, elaborate costumes, cast of thousands (OK, maybe dozens). There was a show on the 16th but when we called for reservations we were told it was all booked. We were also told if we just showed up at 8pm we might be able to get seats if someone didn’t show. We took the risk and it paid off. I strongly suspect, however, that even if they had been totally full they would have found space for us. You see, my cousin does not blend in with the Mexican crowd. He is tall and impressively gringo. And that’s something of great value at Viva México, especially on a night where pretty much all of the tables were filled with Mexicans. One of the big set pieces of the show involves making elaborate fun of a foreigner. And when we walked in and they saw Steve, they knew they had their mark. The kids were delighted to see their much-adored “cousin-uncle” brought up on stage. We didn’t get home until midnight (we had to stay for the “grito,” or shout of independence) and it was a truly memorable evening.

October 2015

In October it really seemed to dawn on Isaiah that we were here to stay (as much as one can say that in the foreign service). It was a rough time for him. He missed his friends in Dallas dearly and missed the ease of school in Dallas and our very comfortable place in our neighborhood and community. We all did, of course, but it hit Isaiah especially hard. It’s interesting to me that this is roughly the time at which Isaiah started developing a particular interest in the horror genre. Horror is a popular thing among boys in Mexico. We don’t let Isaiah watch horror movies, but he is allowed to watch select X-Files episodes, play some age-appropriate “horror” video games, and I found some books and stories he could read. He revisited Edgar Allan Poe, which had terrified him when he first checked a book out from the Rosemont library in fourth grade. Recently he’s starting writing his own horror story. I suppose the horror genre is about giving some kind of voice to our deepest fears – it seems that this has been a real outlet for Isaiah as he copes with feelings he’d never experienced before.

November 2015

Isaiah turned 12. I turned something way bigger. We ate turkey. For the first November in quite a while we didn’t go camping for Isaiah’s birthday or for Thanksgiving, due to the fact that the kids are not on a U.S. school schedule. Veterans’ Day was always our Isaiah’s-birthday-campout weekend and we had taken all of Thanksgiving week to camp for a few years running. So the no-camping thing was weird, but I have to say otherwise it was not unlike any November in the U.S. of A. Only with slightly more Spanish-speaking. And the kids didn’t have Thanksgiving day off, which I have to confess we thoroughly enjoyed. Andrés and I drank wine, cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and watched the Cowboys lose, then welcomed the kids home and had a wonderful big meal together. Marisela was thankful we didn’t have to camp, Andrés and I were thankful we had stress-free, kid-free dinner-prep-and-hanging-out time, and Isaiah was thankful he didn’t have to pretend to like football. It worked for everyone.

December 2015

The last two Christmases we had spent at Texas State Parks – in a yurt in Abilene, then in a cabin at Caddo Lake. It’s amazing how Santa can find us anywhere. We actually took it quite easy on Santa this time, spending Christmas in our own house with a tree and everything. It was actually the first time we’d ever had a traditional Christmas tree in our home – traditional as in a cut-down fir tree acquired in a commercial transaction. When Isaiah was a newborn we made the best of a notice from the City of Dallas warning us that an evergreen in our alley was impeding trash collection. We cut that thing down and hauled it into the living room. After that we made an annual habit of decorating a potted Norfolk Island pine and stacking our gifts around it. Then there were the State Park Christmases – for which we packed a bag of ornaments and decorated whatever foliage seemed fitting. Santa was probably really thrown off by our markedly more mainstream behavior.

January 2016

I’m really trying to not cheat the one-paragraph rule so I didn’t mention in my December paragraph that for Marisela’s birthday we were visited by the Dyche grandparents, and then the kids and I basically followed them back to Lubbock for a pre-Christmas visit with my sister and her family. I guess there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, though, because we visited the Dyches yet again in January, making the trip up to their Santa Fe townhouse when the kids had a four-day weekend. We were able to visit Dyche and Calderón grandparents and I somehow also squeezed in visits with my super fantastic friends Susan and Natalie. The weirdness of being here so very close to people and places so close to my heart really never goes away. This is also the month during which I learned of my violin teacher’s death (see previous post). It was certainly a nostalgia-packed January. And we went to the beach in Cancún and had a blissful time. That is utterly unconnected to anything else in this paragraph but I didn’t return or indent so it’s still part of the same paragraph. Right?

February 2016

Pope month!!! I am a lifelong Episcopalian and we had a wonderful church family at Christ Episcopal in Oak Cliff, but because Juárez’ two Anglican churches are in the “red zone” (area of town we are not allowed to visit without special permission and/or escort) we have been attending mass at Roman Catholic churches here. The liturgy and music is nearly identical to the Spanish-language service we’d sometimes attend at Christ Episcopal, and so the primary difference for us is that when we want to receive the Eucharist we have to cross the border and go to an Episcopal church in El Paso or Las Cruces. Since we’d been visiting Roman Catholic parishes we had started hearing rumors of a possible Papa Francisco visit to Juárez pretty early on, and by the time the visit actually did happen, the whole city was overjoyed. It was such a vindication for a city that has suffered so much. The kids had the day of the Pope’s visit off, as did Andrés. We were especially moved by the words he spoke at the prison he visited, and by the words of the prisoner who spoke, as well. It was a bit of word play in Spanish that’s hard to translate, but she essentially said the question that’s relevant for her and for the other prisoners is not “What am I here for?” (as in for what crime) but “What am I here for?” (as in to what greater end; to accomplish what). And Papa Francisco, for his part, acknowledged that he was no different, no greater, no more beloved a child of God, than the prisoners. It was a powerful message.

March 2016

As I mentioned before, the Mexican school calendar officially extends to mid-July. It seems that in practice the schools tend to shut down operations around the end of June, but there’s no exact science to it. The long school year doesn’t actually mean there are more days spent in the classroom, though. Christmas break is nearly a month. Spring break is two weeks. The last Friday of every month is a day off. And there are various holidays sprinkled generously throughout the year. By the time we hit spring break (which coincided with Semana Santa and the first week of Easter) the kids were truly ready for it. It seemed to have finally hit Marisela that this is not a flight of fancy or a temporary adventure. She’d been occasionally sad, occasionally expressing that she missed friends in Dallas, but for the most part had been rolling with it all astonishingly well. Until suddenly she wasn’t. The kids are both huge Doctor Who fans. I know that at eight years old Marisela is quite capable of realizing that we don’t have a TARDIS and that she would not simply be deposited back in Dallas just minutes after we’d said goodbye, but in a way I think she was kind of hoping that was the case. Not that we’d actually time travel, of course, but that we could have this exciting adventure and meet new people and see new things and then just pop back into our “real” life and kind of wonder if all of that had ever really happened. By the time spring break rolled around she was well and truly stressed out by grappling with the newly-dawning revelation that there is no TARDIS. There’s no neat and easy wrap-up to that little story. She’s still struggling. It’s still very hard for her. But the break really did her a lot of good, and she seems re-energized to keep living this new adventure. [OK . . . there should be a paragraph break in there but I’m almost done so I’m cheating. More cheating: also we celebrated Andrés’ birthday this month . . . St. Patty’s day is not quite the party here it is in the U.S., and there was no Guinness to be found in Juárez.]

April 2016

I’m playing with the timeline a little bit here, as the first of the trips I’m going to describe actually happened in March, but I’m grouping thematically. And also I already cheated and forced two paragraphs and an aside into one for March. I couldn’t in good conscience squeeze in a third. This spring marked our glorious return to camping. Andrés took a few days of annual leave so he could have Semana Santa off, and we squeezed everything we could out of that week. We had a nostalgic dining experience at Dick’s Café, one of my family’s old haunts in Las Cruces. We toured the gorgeous Plaza Theater in downtown El Paso – one of only a very few remaining theaters dating back to silent movie days, lovingly restored and put into use as a performing arts venue. We also went camping, and our return to camping was as big as Texas itself, it seemed – we camped at Big Bend National Park, which is a stunning place to be. Canyons, mountains, desert . . . Isaiah does far more justice to this trip in his blog than I can, so for further details see isaiahtherovingbison.wordpress.com, but suffice it to say it was such a spectacular place to be that even our most reluctant camper, Marisela, had a wonderful time. Such a wonderful time that I felt the need to keep the outdoorsy-Marisela-momentum going with a second camping trip. We came home from Big Bend, celebrated Easter, then turned around and went camping at City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico, one of my favorite picnic spots when I was a kid. We capped off the kids’ spring break with a trip to visit the Trinity Site. It was fascinating, thought-provoking, and startlingly beautiful. Los Alamos is also a beautiful place. Such strange ironies – the destruction and the beauty superimposed on each other. I’m guessing that wasn’t lost on the Manhattan Project scientists. Being there at there at the site I had to wonder how much those thoughts had entered their minds.

Post script

Whoa!! Not only did my “paragraphs” get longer and longer (as I got into months with fresher and fresher memories), but I realize now that I’ve actually written twelve paragraphs. We arrived mid-May. It’s now mid-April. So while we haven’t actually been here a full year yet I’ve written twelve months’ worth of (increasingly long and cheat-y) paragraphs. Oops.

Another thing I realize: I haven’t written a lot about Mexico per se. That’s because the reality is that we are posted on the border – which both is and isn’t the same as being posted in Mexico. Due to security restrictions our movement within the city is limited. We aren’t supposed to drive anywhere out of the city, either (except to Chihuahua, with permission, which I hope we’ll do at some point but haven’t done yet). So the majority of our traveling and exploring has taken place north of the border. At first I fought this. I didn’t come along on the foreign service crazy train to re-visit the scenes of my youth! I’m not here to just keep camping at Texas parks and hanging out with my family in Lubbock as if we’d never left Dallas! But then I decided I was being stupid. Because why not? Why not spend time with family while we still can? Why not take advantage of the natural beauty of the southwest? Why not take full advantage of the fact that we can hang out in scenic and lovely Santa Fe and also see good friends and grandparents at the very same time? What fool would not take advantage of that?

So we do live in Mexico. And we have made friends here, and I’ve brushed my Spanish up quite a bit (no longer inserting random Czech words, at least most of the time), and the kids are doing their level best to learn it (and really impressing us in the process). But we also live on the border and I’m finally at peace with that idea, I think. When we first moved here I kind of thought of crossing into El Paso as a kind of selling out of the foreign service experience I wanted to have. Looking back that seems both naïve and self-important.

I’ve had hopes and dreams regarding our next post for months now. Probably by the next time I write those hopes and dreams will be a little more tangible. Right now we can say we’re hoping to go to Africa, which we are, but our bid list might not have Africa posts we want that match our schedule. Stay tuned . . . I will post about the bidding process once we get that list. And I will not make any paragraph-limiting promises, because clearly I cannot be trusted in that regard. Also there may or may not be a purely photographic retrospective posted sometime soon. There are intentions and then there is reality and it’s hard to say if those will intersect. Until next time!

Home and not home

Giving up on catching up is the only way I can start writing again. We’ve been in Ciudad Juárez since mid-May. Our trip here, a cross-country road trip punctuated by such Americana-drenched sightseeing as a visit to Graceland, a tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery, and a night in a Texas hill country cabin, was itself something I could spend a few entries describing. Crossing the border, discovering our new home and city, a desert summer, new schools, new people, new tastes, new words, new lives altogether in so many ways . . . I’m sure that will all creep in as I try to move forward with this writing, but I’ve missed my chance to catalog it all. Or I should say I’ve realized I need to let go of the sense that I’m obligated to catalog it all at once. Starting small is definitely better than never starting for the bigness of it all.

Saturday evening Andrés and I went to El Paso for a symphony concert, the symphony really being an excuse to see downtown El Paso’s Plaza Theater more than a draw on its own. But during an announcement – just a few seconds’ pause before the second half of the program – my evening took a turn for the surreal, a turn that has led me to thoughts that have led me back here. The announcement was about the death of a musician, Joseph Manig-Sylvan, who had for years been a member of the El Paso Symphony and of many other musical groups along the border. He was, for about a decade, my own violin teacher, not to mention neighbor. For many years I had not seen or been in contact with him, but I have spent hours and hours in his company, and they were crucial hours, formative in so many ways.

Somehow hearing this news, and the long string of unlikely events that led to me being at that concert on that particular night, has left me feeling reflective about the strangeness of being at a foreign service post that’s closer to my hometown than anywhere I’ve lived since I left it half a lifetime ago. It’s not at all an uncommon experience to leave one’s hometown and never come back, or come back only for rare visits. That was what I expected my experience to be. I held no ill will toward Las Cruces, and in fact have always considered it a wonderful place to have grown up, but I had no intention of returning. And I think when that’s the assumption made – I will never be back there – there’s a certain distancing that occurs, not intentional or conscious, but natural and largely unnoticed as it happens. The places, the people, the events tied to that place and time, even those that were truly significant, are archived as they become more distant. Tucked away and rarely considered.

Living here just a quick dash away from my childhood home has done some untucking Some of it is stuff I can just chuckle about, shake my head at the unexpectedness of seeing the man who used to live across the street and whose kids were a fixture of mine and my sister’s childhood days, now president of New Mexico State University, presenting awards at halftime when I go to an Aggie football game. Some of it is purely sentimental – the nostalgic trick-or-treating trip to my old neighborhood with my kids knocking on doors this time around. But then there is a moment like the moment I learned of Dr. Sylvan’s death, and I realized that tucked away in that archive are things I should not have been so casual about leaving behind.

Dr. Sylvan used to impress upon me that learning to play the violin – and really practicing and doing it right, something I was not always enthusiastic about doing – was about more than being ready for my next lesson with him, or for the next symphony concert, or whatever external reasons may have existed for doing it. He would mention the woman whose lesson was immediately after mine, an older woman, retired, not taking violin lessons (as I was at the time) for a few university credits and a grade, but purely for the joy of playing. Learning to play means a lifetime of being able to play, and that, Dr. Sylvan assured me, was what really mattered.

I didn’t like the not-so-fun parts of practicing. The meticulous going over and over of scales and arpeggios and etudes that were not beautiful or dramatic or spectacular. The working over and over of challenging fingerings or tricky rhythms. I loved the part of practicing that involved playing beautiful music as long as I could play it without too much effort. But of course a really good practice session should probably involve more of the former than the latter. Dr. Sylvan was never anything but kind and gracious with me, but he didn’t let me forget why serious practice mattered, and he made sure I knew I was fooling no one when I clearly had not been serious. It was a lesson with implications way beyond the practice room and it was one that was largely lost on my younger self.

Thinking of Dr. Sylvan I took my violin out today. I hadn’t played a single note in at least a year. I haven’t played in an ensemble since I moved to Dallas in 2003, and during the years between then and now I played once or twice with friends and a mere handful of times on my own. Today I started with scales. And arpeggios. I pulled out a piece I’d worked on with Dr. Sylvan and, yes, I played the parts I know well and can play fluidly even after all these years, but I also played through the tricky parts Dr. Sylvan always knew I’d neglected in practice because they were hard for me. I looked at the bowing and fingering marks he had made for me. I played through the hard parts and then went back and played them slowly and deliberately. Then I did it again. I still can’t play them well, but tomorrow I’m going to get my violin out again. I’m going to start with scales. And I’m going to go straight to the tricky parts. I’m going to learn the piece not because I have a lesson and a teacher to appease or a grade to earn but because learning it will mean I can enjoy playing it.

I was disappointed, to be sure, that my first foreign service adventure was – so I thought – not going to be such an adventure after all, but a return to among the most familiar settings of my life. The familiarity is deceptive, though. This is home, and it isn’t. And rediscovering truths left behind and forgotten is an adventure in itself.