So long. Good-bye.
Those are not so much words that we as humans like to say, the more permanent "good-bye" in particular, yet we've all had to say them. In the last few months, it's been driven home to me just how much more frequently I will be saying them now than I have in the past.
I knew that as a diplomat's wife, I'd be moving a lot, every two to three years. When I thought about it, I realized that since the entire embassy staff doesn't rotate in or out on identical schedules, the embassy community wouldn't be stable even during those two or three years when we lived in any given country. When I thought about it, I realized this. Yet, in the hustle, bustle, and confusion of preparing for and then making our first international move, I didn't think about it often. Instead, I rejoiced that we were able to meet a few people in America who would be our neighbors, friends, and Jeff's coworkers while we were in Egypt. I rejoiced in the emails we received from Egypt, emails that contained encouragement, offers of assistance, and much-needed information.
We arrived in mid-June last year. I didn't realize it at the time, but the year's mass exodus was winding up and was pretty well finished by the time I emerged from my first week or so of self-imposed isolation, adjusting to the idea that I was really in Egypt. As I adjusted to the expat life throughout the summer and early fall, those people who were here at my arrival stayed. New people came in gradually during July and early August, then in a rush in late August. Embassy people, oil people, defense contractors, teachers ... those who were moving here for the first time tended to arrive in late summer, just before school started up again. At the same time, expat wives who had lived here for anywhere from one year to thirty years returned from their summer vacations in their home countries. My first few months here consisted of meeting new people and becoming friends with them, with new people constantly being added but few if any leaving.
Then January came around. One couple with whom we were friends from life group decided to return to their home in South Africa. We had known for a while that they were considering moving on, but the time between the final decision and the departure was short. Then my friends from Bible study started talking about their summer plans. Most of the expat women here leave during the summer, escaping the heat and taking the opportunity to visit family and friends and to re-acquaint their children with their homelands. I started to realize that last year's pleasant solitude could become this year's lonely boredom if I don't figure out ways to keep myself occupied--preferably indoors--this summer. Still, I had time to make my plans.
Then some friends from Jeff's office--a couple whom we had first met in the States and who served as both spiritual and professional mentors and encouragers during our first year in this strange new life--rotated out not long before we left for our R&R in early May. I actually never spent a lot of time with this couple, although Jeff saw them regularly at the embassy. When I did see them, their love for others, for this country and its citizens, and for God shone through in a way that was uplifting. Even when I wasn't around them, it was encouraging to know that they were nearby, just a phone call away. So even though I wasn't heart-broken, I was sad to say good-bye to them*.
We returned from R&R to find preparations for more departures in full swing. My friends are leaving for the summer, one by one. One actually left a couple of months ago; others left right after school let out. It seems like an endless chorus of "So long, I'll see you this fall! Have a great summer!"
I think the biggest loss for us, though, is the one that will occur in just a couple more days. Our neighbors, whom we had expected to be here for another year, have accepted a position that requires them to cut this tour short and head to a new post. This couple has done more for us than I can say. They were our unofficial sponsors--our official embassy sponsor who was supposed to help us through the transition of moving here was a joke, and this couple stepped in to fill the gap. They drove us around until our vehicle arrived. They showed us where the commissary is. They explained how the embassy shuttle service works. They introduced us to convenient, good, and safe restaurants, one of them on the very evening we arrived, so I wouldn't have to cook and we wouldn't have to figure out how to obtain food in this strange new place. They answered innumerable questions which must have seemed silly at the time--about internet service, mobile phone service, how to get our AFN television service set up, where to buy phone cords, ADSL routers, and countless other things. They took us to the Khan for the first time. They are the embassy people with whom I've socialized the most (most of my socializing is through non-embassy circles), and possibly the people here with whom Jeff is closest. The news that they're leaving came unexpectedly not that long ago. It rocked my feelings of being settled here much more than I would have expected it to, probably because it seemed so sudden. More than anyone else, these people have felt like my mentors, and I expected them to be here for another year ... even though I have other friends who have been here longer than they have and who function as mentors to me, it was a shock to my equilibrium to hear that they were leaving*.
But in the midst of these "so long's" and "farewells," there are spots of "glad you're here" and "hello." A few--a very few, but a few--of the expat wives stay over the summer. They may go on vacation now and then, but only for a week or two. I know that I can count on one or two of the women in my life group to be here most of the summer. One friend who moved here just before me will be in town this summer; she lives in another part of Cairo and is about to start a part-time job, so I don't see her often, but when the cabin fever kicks in, I know she'll be there. I've also had the pleasure of meeting, for the first time, a couple who has been in our life group longer than I have. I believe the husband was the leader of the group before they returned to Canada for last summer, and then events just kept occuring to keep them there. But they're finally back now, so there's a "hello" in the midst of my "goodbyes."
And I know that come August, there will be more "hello" and "nice to meet you" going on. This summer will be the empty time, after "goodbye" but before "hello." But then, it doesn't have to be empty. That part is up to me. This time can be full, too, just full of different things than the fall, winter, and spring. There won't be any ladies' Bible studies; there aren't any ladies to attend--but there can and should be personal Bible studies throughout the year. There won't be any meetings of the Maadi Women's Guild--but there will continue to be life group meetings. There won't be the baby wash volunteer work--but there can be orphanage volunteer work, if I ever get my act in gear and arrange for a driver. There can be language classes. There can be time to take care of my home--cleaning, cooking, setting up the guest room, finishing up the "settling in" process that usually takes me about 18 months longer than I wish it did. And there can be time to rest, to read, to relax with a kitten in my lap or curled up beside me, to prepare myself for the busiest time of year here--the fall, when all the usual activities start up again, accompanied by kick-off events, pleas for help with charities (think Christmas bazaar), helping out those newbies who are feeling as overwhelmed as I did last year, and then finally, our own holiday preparations.
"So longs" are not fun. "Good-byes" are hard. "Hellos" are good. The time in between ... maybe that's a gift from God, who knows what I need much better than, and long before, I know it myself.
*One consolation to knowing that both they and we are foreign service families: It's almost inevitable that we'll meet again, in another overseas post or a Stateside tour.