It all comes down to this

December 28, 2010 changed my life. After the extended prelude of my delayed application, lack of test seats after applying, then the written test, the Personal Narrative Questions, the Oral Assessment, the medical exams for me and the family, the security investigation, the final suitability review and then the waiting on the register, I’d finally gotten invited to join the Foreign Service.

Skip ahead to March 28, 2011. I’ve quit my job and moved to DC alone, leaving my family behind. I meet an amazing group of people who prove true to first impressions and have become a very tight and valuable group of friends and colleagues.  Then the bidding process, where I discovered that I really did want to go to Abuja, Nigeria, if possible. Somehow I forgot to learn what the national flag of Nigeria looked like and ended up surprised on Flag Day to be the first person assigned there. Diplomatic passport and visas, consultations and distance learning.

My family has visited twice and we’ve decided that they’ll stay in Japan for the next two years. I’ve purchased hundreds of pounds of food and “consumables” in addition to some toys (ipad; new bass and amp!) and appliances (tv, stereo, dvd player). I’ve got a whole slew of electricity converters and UPS to preserve my electronics and permit me to use them in spite of the consistent power outages in Nigeria.

And I’ve acquired a new family member, the coolest cat I’ve ever know, Sugar. Yesterday I was worried I might have to abandon her at the airport. Today I hold a rabies titer result (she’s clean!) as well as recent veterinary certificates. I’m pretty sure I’ll have no trouble tomorrow, which leads me to…tomorrow.

It has all come down to this. After all the preparation and testing and waiting and wondering and training and orientation and packing and flying and buying, it ends. Tomorrow I depart these United States in order to represent the President and nation and protect and promote the Constitution and the values our great nation is founded on.  It is a great honor to be able to serve this country.

It’s been a great two days here in New York City. I can sense its greatness even from the tiny bit I’ve seen over the last 36 hours. Now its off to Africa, to Nigeria, to Abuja for 2 years. How awesome is that?

Is Sugar one of Schroedinger's cats?

Sugar is the beautimous cat stuffed with awesomesauce whom we’ve grown to love and adore over the past few months.  I thought I’d done everything right with respect to getting her import clearance into Nigeria but I fear that a last minute snag may cause huge problems for me on Wednesday.

All of the documentation I got for Nigeria directed me to begin the pet processing during the last month prior to departure. A checkup is needed 10 days before flying but I also needed to file for import papers from Nigeria.  I went to the vet 3 weeks prior to departure only to learn that the rabies titer (test) takes 6 weeks to process. For whatever reason, there is only one lab in the US that does it and they are severely backlogged.  I pay for the test (~$250) but submit the paperwork to the NIgeria government with the test results listed as pending. Apparently this is sufficient as I receive my import papers for my cat.  I take her back for a second examination within the 10 day window (yes, two physicals within about a week due to the processing requirements) and we submit the forms to the USDA. I’m expecting to get an international certificate from them that will release Sugar to travel on Friday or Saturday.

Monday morning departure comes and I haven’t heard from the vet.

Nothing to do but head to New York and pay the extra fees to get the certificate overnighted to my hotel. I wasn’t expecting to need the certificate to travel between DC and NYC. I was able to get by with the full stack of paperwork I’d kept with me indicating Sugar’s medical history and exam results.

I get to NY and find out that the USDA will not sign off on the international form without the rabies titer results. This is a bit frustrating since I’ve got full documentation of Sugar’s immunization record and health status: this cat doesn’t have rabies. The vet agrees to send me the uncertified certificate with the rabies test results pending and we’ll see what happens.

I’m hoping that this paperwork and the forms I used to get to NYC are sufficient to get on the plan in spite of the lack of a USDA form but I really really don’t know if this possible. There is a very strong (better than 50%) chance that I’m going to get to the airport and they flat out won’t let my cat on the plane. If this happens, I just don’t know what I’m going to do, as I most definitely will be getting on the plane. Hopefully the rumors I’ve heard about a certified form not being required will prove true. I don’t want to have to choose between leaving my pet at the airport and missing my flight.

H-Bomb in New York

I’m in Times Square at the moment, hanging out on the 27th floor with Sugar, my beloved cat. We’ve packed out of DC and made it to New York; Sugar’s ability to move onwards to Nigeria is in question though. But before I delve into that, I want to celebrate meeting my good friend H-bomb here in New York.

H-bomb and I met in the introductory anthropology class that hooked me into anthro for 15 years and set the foundations for this gig I’m on now.  We hung out a couple times while I was in Duluth and then mostly just kept in touch via email during the remainder of college. I didn’t hear from her for a long time but then reconnected thanks to the magic of facebook. We played some online scrabble for a while and got caught up on each other’s life and family but I’m such an atrocious scrabble player that experiment eventually withered and died (my ongoing chess games with J have thrived in spite of my .25 winning percentage over the last 10+ years).  But we still kept in peripheral touch and I was happy to learn that she’d be available during my brief passage through NYC on my way to Nigeria.

H-bomb was one of those people that just clicked as a friend.  Looking back, I don’t really think we spent all that much time actually hanging out together yet I’ve always felt like she was one of my closest friends.  I missed her during the time we’d lost touch and was happy to find that we still got a long great in spite of all the time that has passed. I just wish I was a better scrabble player.

In life, there just are those people that you know are good for you.  I’m not one to believe in reincarnation or that type of thing but I can see where people would think that relationships in previous lives could be responsible for the ease with which we find ourselves with certain people.

All I know is that I was lucky to meet H-Bomb in college and we’ve kept in touch over the years and now, we got to meet again.  I like having good friends, especially those that just feel like natural affines.  Knowing that you’ve got good people out there for you makes not only makes life a little easier, it makes it more fun.

It’s important to remember this as I depart from my beloved A-100 classmates, many (most?) of whom I possibly will never meet again. Even if we don’t meet, I know they are still good friends. I can’t imagine ever needing to call on them for anything but the knowledge that they are there just feels good.  And while it may seem like we’d never get to meet, you never know when paths will cross.