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!


4 thoughts on “Gotta Go to Ghana

    • Of course having put our list together relatively early on has left us with too much time to rearrange the pieces on the board. I think we’ve had 50 iterations of our top 30 now. 😉 We keep hearing to expect to get our top perfect fit . . . that would be Nicosia, Cypress. I think we could live with that, too, but still holding out for Ghana.

  1. Good luck with those choices. My brother spent 6 months in Ghana and loved it. It will be great to read the Calderon adventures you and Isaiah write. I got curious and did the homework: Ghana, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Oman and Mongolia.

    • Thank you! I’ve been meaning to drop a line and let you know that Isaiah often talks about what an inspiration you were to him. He loves writing and writing, both his horror story and his blog, has been a tremendous release for him during all these adjustments he’s had to make. Thank you for helping to spark that passion for him!

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