Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Change in Plans

Several months ago, Jeff and I were notified of a pretty significant change in our plans. The day we received the news, I wrote a blog post entitled “You Never Know,” but Jeff asked me not to publish it until some details were finalized. Finally, I am able to publish that post, more or less as I wrote it back in July. At the bottom will be an update of what’s happened since then.

26 July 2012

If there’s one thing that I learned during my time in Egypt, it’s that you never know what will happen. The last thing we expected to live through in Egypt was a revolution. We repeatedly emphasized to worried friends and family that yes, Egypt is in the Middle East, but it isn’t the stereotypical Middle East—Egypt was stable, there was little threat of anything major happening during our time there. The one thing that could cause problems would be Mubarak’s death, as there was no clear successor, but that was unlikely. A popular revolt? Never. Mubarak was too strong. Then things changed overnight.

I am not a fan of change. I like stability. Even when things do change, I like a plan, preferably a well-thought-out plan that slowly unfolds over a period of many months. And I do not like it when plans change. My plans tend to be elaborate constructions, full of caveats and contingencies, so even if situations change, the plan doesn’t change: we simply move from version A to version B—no fuss, no bother, simply following an if-then line of preparation.

That sounds completely backwards, doesn’t it? After all, I’m a global nomad, moving every two or three years to places that are as different as possible from everything I’ve ever known. The key part of my preferred lifestyle is change. But the changes are anticipated well in advance, and I plan for them, and my plan unfolds gradually over a period of many months—truth be told, in both of my two international moves so far, I knew over a year in advance not only that I was going, but when I was going.

Not so this time.

Jeff got word today: Things have changed for us, dramatically enough to require a change in plans—a real change in plans, not simply a move to Contingency Plan B. I have no plan and have to develop one now—in fact, I’m developing one as I type. No, we didn’t “lose” Kosovo. We’re still going. We’re just going much earlier than anticipated. Almost a year earlier.

Based on our arrival date here, we should be in Cambodia until October 2013. When we found out a few months ago that our next post would be Kosovo, indications were that we’d be asked to leave Cambodia maybe a month early. Ok, no problem. Since then, there have been vague rumblings that maybe, just maybe, we’d be asked to report to Kosovo even earlier than that—no time frames given, just a feeling in the air. Nothing concrete enough to allow for even loose contingency planning.

But today, the word came down: Jeff is needed in Kosovo more than he is needed here.  We’re not being asked to leave immediately. No dates are set in stone, but preliminary indications are that instead of going home at Christmas on R&R, we’ll go home at Christmas on home leave, reporting to Kosovo early next year. Six or seven months from now. Our departure date from Cambodia has zoomed forward, from over a year away to a mere five months.

I know, I feel like a whiner for lamenting this news. I mean, really—I can plan a move in five months, right? We can organize and purge our possessions, arrange for cat transport, plan our home leave, plan a hopefully-it-can-still-happen visit from friends, and make our three remaining planned purchases. We can do that in five months. But that part, although it will be stressful, is not the problem. I was planning to do most of that in an only slightly longer period of time next year anyway.

The problem is what I won’t be doing during that time instead. The rest of this year was supposed to be my “enjoy Cambodia” time. I’ve made it through a rough adjustment, and I was anticipating a stressful “pre-leaving” period, but the rest of this year was supposed to be my “just enjoy being here” time. That’s the part of the tour that makes the difficult adjustments worthwhile. That’s when I have a comfortable routine, friends, and the mental energy to enjoy those crazy “Only in Cambodia” moments. It’s what I’m working toward when I struggle to adjust to a new home, a new culture, and a new language, and it’s what I mourn when I prepare to say good-bye.

I’ve had just a few months of feeling settled here. Just a few months of feeling comfortable with the shopping, with having a housekeeper around all day, with the easy rapport between my daughter and our tuk tuk driver. I’ve started some friendships that have the potential to develop into solid, lifelong relationships. We just found our church less than a month ago! And suddenly, it’s about to be gone. I have to figure out a plan for systematically dismantling my life here while I’m just starting to enjoy it.

That’s just the selfish stuff.

How am I going to explain to our housekeeper that the family that had planned to employ her for another 15 months has to cut that time by two-thirds? That her livelihood will be gone again, and her without a husband to support her or her son? Especially since we’ll be leaving at a really slow time, when there aren’t a lot of new expat families moving in. How will she deal with that again, after her last family had to leave a year early for medical reasons? Of course we’ll give her some severance pay to soften the blow, but there’s no mistaking it: it will be a serious blow.

I’ve been in a funk all day, ever since I heard the news. Jeff called to tell me right before I left for a monthly social gathering of embassy spouses. He asked me not to publicize this information until all the negotiations were complete, so I’ve gone through my day smiling when people are watching and letting it fade when they aren’t, pretending to be chipper while seeing everything around me through eyes that suddenly are aware of a rapidly approaching loss.

I will get better. I don’t like change, especially relatively short-notice change, but I can and do adapt. I’ve already ordered a guide book for Kosovo, and soon I’ll do another search for blogs written by expats in Kosovo. I’ll come up with a plan for sorting through our belongings in a methodical, efficient way. And I’ll be more purposeful in making sure I see and do all I want to see and do here, in Phnom Penh; I’ll just have to accept that we won’t be doing much travel in the rest of Cambodia.

But before I can get on with adapting to and dealing with the reality of our current situation, I just need a day or two to mourn what we won’t have: several months of simply living in Cambodia. After that, I’ll adapt, I’ll plan, I’ll enjoy what I can of the time we have left here … I’ll start doing that in a day or two.

Fast forward to the present:

During negotiations between our current management chain and our future management chain, the decision was made to let us stay here until April. We are returning to the States in December for R&R, and that time has been extended by a week to allow for some processing in Washington, DC, related to our move to Kosovo. We were granted permission to delay our home leave until next summer, so we will be flying from Cambodia directly to Kosovo in April, without the traditional time in the U. S. in between. These accommodations have made our financial planning much easier, as we have more time to save for the various expenses associated with the move and then, later, with home leave.

God intervened to take care of the terrible situation in which we expected to leave our housekeeper: Just a day or two after I found out about the move, she approached me and asked if I would be willing to help her find additional work on the weekends. I agreed—thankful that if I was successful, she would have part time income even after we left—and put an ad in the embassy newsletter. The miraculous thing was that it turned out that there was a glut of new embassy arrivals and a shortage of experienced, English-speaking housekeepers. We were able to obtain weekend work for Neth with a family who committed almost immediately to hiring her full time after we left, even when they believed that the wait would be over a year! When the family discovered that we would be leaving early, their determination to hire her full time only increased.

Finally, I adapted to the idea of leaving early just like I anticipated that I would. I was upset for a few days, and then I set about preparing myself to leave. At first, because we thought we were leaving in December, the emotional divorce from Cambodia happened quickly. Then there were snags in the management negotiations, and it became possible that we wouldn’t be leaving early after all. By that point, I was mentally gone from Cambodia and excited about Kosovo, so this news threw me into another tailspin. However, I re-adjusted over the two or three weeks of uncertainty, and by the time we got the official April word, I was in the place where I am now: I appreciate every day I have left in Cambodia, but I am looking forward to Kosovo.  This is a healthy place for me, emotionally—my short-term status here makes it easier to shrug off annoyances and difficulties, while also helping me to appreciate the beautiful things about life here.

Plans change. You never know in advance what life will bring. All you can do is adapt, keep going, and appreciate the journey. Apparently that’s one lesson that this global nomad has to relearn every once in a while.

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