Imagine starting a new job, but knowing only that the initial training you receive is a mere precursor to something larger – but what that might be you have no idea. The prospect at first is that you can go anywhere, then you get the bid list and realise you are going to one of those locations, but you still have no idea which one. Each location has different training and departure dates and leads you down a nearly infinite number of potential paths, professionally and personally. It is all a bit much sometimes.
The bid list contains a rather lengthy list of positions in countries flung all around the world and is given to us during the first week of A-100, the first 6 week training class that all foreign service (FS) officers have to go through. That list can be altered either positively or negatively all the way up until the fifth Friday of training which is called Flag Day. Once we have the list we discuss with our loved ones where we want to bid high, medium and low. Every post on the list gets one of those designations and we submit the list and then try to ignore it for two weeks!
Luckily both of us looked at the list independently, at least as a first glance over, and came up with nearly identical preferences on our highs and lows, with mediums being largely inconsequential at this point. Further discussions, and amendments to the list, brought us to a consensus on 24 posts in the wide world that we would bid high. They were mostly in Central and South America, Africa and a few in Southeast Asia. These were the regions we were most interested in and so we submitted our list and hoped for the best.
Flag Day is a tradition in the FS and involves all class members and their respective families and friends. In the front of the room are two very full racks of small flags that will be gone by the end of the event. After a few introductions, they start by flashing up a flag on the big screen and announce a city and position and then, a name. There is no order, it’s completely random. You sit, and wait, maybe for 30 seconds, maybe for 30 minutes. With every flag you wait with anticipation to hear your name, with hope or excitement, or possibly dread.
It is hard to explain the emotions you feel on Flag Day. For five weeks you have been sitting in classes learning about the Foreign Service. They give you a nice long list of potential places in the world that you will be going. Some are amazing, some less so, but all offer highs and lows and chances that will last a lifetime.
For weeks you research them, some more than others, and then you become convinced of ‘favourites’. The ones that you are somehow certain you are going to get. These aren’t just the ones you really want, but also ones you really would prefer not to see pop up on that fateful day. All the while you are hurtling towards a destiny wholly out of your control. It is hard to fathom how your life is going to change, not just in the short term, but the ripple effects that will emanate from this one day.
When you finally hear your name you go up and take the flag and you look happy, whether you are or not doesn’t matter because there is no such thing as a bad post. And then it is over and the next two to three years of your life are defined for you. You are able to start making life decisions again that aren’t predicated on a lot of what ifs. And you start to fantasise about your new life in some far flung corner of the world!
So on Friday 15 February, we filed into the room, accompanied by our families. All the students sit together in the front, with families behind, so unfortunately the two of us couldn’t be together to hear the news. About twenty names in this flag appeared on the big screen:
And before anyone could figure out where that was, they announced Maseru, Lesotho…and Charles Malinak!
It was a bit of a surprise as we were expecting a language designated post but once the news filtered through our consciousness and we did a bit of research we realised how amazing it will be.
Lesotho (le-SOO-too) is a small mountainous country the size of Belgium surrounded by South Africa. Home to amazing mountain hiking opportunities, horseback riding, waterfall abseiling and even skiing, Lesotho is a small rural country. It’s also very close to many places in South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana which will provide lots of opportunities for some great adventures! We have wanted to go to Africa for ages and so in a few months that is exactly where we will be living!
For those who can brave the rather lengthy flights our door will always be open! We will be there for two years starting in July 2013 so start planning! Exciting new adventures await us all in a place relatively unexplored – we currently wonder whether two years will be enough!