from 2014 to 2015


2014 is behind us, and 2015 has started with fresh vigor. Happy New Year! I’m left with a couple in-between days of down time and a whole lot of feeling reflective…so back to the blog it is.

2014 started in Tanzania, and it will end in Tanzania—very. happily. so. It seems unfair to sum up the travels, experiences, sights, and sounds that I’ve come across this entire year (and especially to sum up those that occurred in the latter six months, where my posting on the blog was irregular, at best), but let’s try anyway, shall we? Consider this post my end-of-year letter that would have, twenty years ago, been mailed right to your door. Mambo from Africa!


2014 marks the longest I have spent abroad without having gone back to the US. This is less a complaint and more of simply a cool fact, and also propelled by the fact that I know the end date to my expatriatism (which, Microsoft Word does not think expatriatism is a word, according to spellcheck).

2014 bent time and space, creating a weird time warp bubble that is simply every day life in Dar es Salaam. As I write this, I realize that my arrival in May 2013 seems ages ago, and that since my being home, babies that have been born and new jobs attained and relationships started and ended. Lots of new babies that I can’t wait to hug and kiss and smell their babyness (also, not a word)!

2014, though, was very much focused on my corner of the world (to me), and in this time warp bubble, things are all good. I was particularly bad at being in touch with friends this year, but like many things I blame it on the weird Dar space-time continuum. It took awhile to get to know and love my new home, but in the last several months I’ve really come around. What was hard is now easy, what was frustrating is now easily managed. The DiploMan may not be as smitten as I am in this place, but he is happy here, too. He is doing his suit-and-tie thing during the day (although at Embassy Dar, more like khaki-and-button-up), fighting the good fight. As just one of two Americans in his office, he still manages to take significant time off to travel and have fun, and not bring any work home with him or allow bureaucracy and Embassy dynamics skew his view of work and life. I envy him for these seemingly carefree qualities. Having a better grasp on work-life separation is one of my goals for 2015.


2014 allowed us to call Dar home, and it’s been a good home indeed. Our equatorial setting means year-round weather ranging between the very pleasant 85-95 degrees F, with daylight a fairly constant 6am-6pm. It’s a blessing and a curse, for although I have become an avid ocean creature and my skin dewey in the above-average humidity, I do miss my sweaters and boots and coats and beanies and scarves.

2014 allowed me to experience small-town type living. I miss big-city living, but this small-community certainly has its rewards. In our second year here, we have come to meet some really great, inspiring, and true friends. Some have since left, but we know they are ones we will know forever. Like our first post in Guangzhou, where we met some of our best friends, I know we will continue many friendships long after we leave Dar.

2014 was a good year for work, too. Home, climate, and social life aside, I found good opportunities that allowed me to grow in confidence and abilities. For most of the first year, as I somewhat reported in this blog, I was freelancing and writing copy and articles for various small companies and magazines around the web and world. I got a few big jobs in Dar, editing a local city magazine, as well as writing press kits for a local fashion designer. I also had the very exciting pleasure to hone my photography skills on a variety of projects, including an intensive five-day commercial photo shoot for the first Tanzania-based fast food concept, Bongo Flava. I’ve since eaten at Bongo Flava more than I’d like to admit I eat fast food, but it really is very tasty, so I’m quite proud to have supported that project.

2014 capped off my freelance work with a part time job at the Embassy, as a CLO (for those of you familiar with FS-life) which was rewarding but all-consuming. As my freelance work dropped off and I found less time and energy to blog, I decided that I wanted to get back into media, communications, photography, and writing. I had planned to return to freelancing, but quite fortuitously, I was able to score a contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and work in their communications department, full time. I am thoroughly enjoying this work, as it feels it finally combines many of the skills I have learned in my decade-plus of seemingly scattered work.





2014 brought me outside my comfort zone, not only in work, but in play. It shuttled me around to places I never imagined I would, like the Serengeti. I climbed volcanoes, trekked through forests, camped amidst wild animals, boated to remote islands, and in general, explored the grandeur that is the country of Tanzania–and beyond. I wish I had the time and the energy to write posts about each and every adventure—which I always intended, but never got around too. Perhaps they’ll stay stored in my memory and I’ll one day share. I actually do intend to.

2014 also invited a slew of friends and family in Dar to experience some of these majesties with me, including visits from my parents and my sister. The recaps and photos from these trips I’ve meant to share for some time, but again, it’s a matter of getting around to it.

And now, what lies ahead?


2015 will bring the very best of my time in Tanzania, and then will close the chapter. With a departure date set sometime around May, it will be sad, but also a welcomed ending. I like it here in Dar, but I am looking forward to what is next. And frankly, this town is a bit small for me! So soon, we’ll be back in the US for some travels and time off, then spend some months of training in DC. After that, we’re heading back to China!

2015 and beyond is going to be crazy. China wasn’t the plan, but things often aren’t. This time we’ll be in the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, one of the greatest and most important cities in the world, both historically and contemporaneously. I can’t say I’m particularly excited, although I am very eager to live there. The recent bidding process for the DiploMan was a beast. High on our list were cities like Rangoon, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kiev, Bratislava, and Athens. The Diploman was very close in getting some of those (unfortunately, being a second choice isn’t quite the as consoling as one would think) and very distant in others, but the final offer was for Beijing and for that we’re pleased.


So, on a very satisfied and positive note, I raise my coffee mug to the year 2015. Hopefully it includes a lot more blogging. And a new iPhone, which was gone along with 2014.

Trailing Spouse: the Pride and Joy of this lifestyle.

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Earlier this month I had an article published in the American Foreign Service Journal. It’s on a topic I sometimes address here, increasingly more now that my life is fully inundated into the Foreign Service lifestyle. I wrote about being a trailing spouse. It’s hard.

Check out the article, here.

I’ve been so happy that friends and strangers alike have reached out to me in response. It reminds me that I’m definitely not alone. I knew I wasn’t the only one in this situation, and that the women and men before me had it hard, too. But I’ve been reminded.

One email I received this weekend was from an ex-foreign service spouse, who told me about her own experiences, her own fond memories, and left me with a few bit of sage advice:

I just wanted to tell you that you will no doubt look back on these years with pride and a special joy in having lived an exceptional life, rich in experiences the average person can never attain.  Be well, be safe.  Be happy.

This note really hit me. Be happy! It’s a simple reminder to remember– even when I can’t find a job, even when I am going through pack out yet again, even when I am stressing about quality of medical care in third-world hospitals. And especially, when I complain about the quality of things like haircuts/manicures/internet speed.

Because I’m sure I’ll look back on these years with much pride, and great joy.

Thoughts this Friday…

On Wednesday, the HuffPo published this article about trailing spouses.

“Unfortunately, most expat employers, HR people and those in the global mobility industry still see the expat spouse as a throw-back from the 50s; a helpless, pampered, Barbie doll, rather than the highly efficient, intelligent and competent woman of today. The trailing spouse of today needs to be given a voice, as well as an active role, in producing and delivering solutions to what everyone in the global mobility industry agree is their number one challenge; the adaptation and integration of the expat family.”

While this is a topic I am very passionate about (stay tuned for an upcoming article that i wrote!) and I do like to see it being featured on a public forum such as HuffPo, the tone of this article really bugs me. First of all, it assumes all trailing spouses are women, which in itself is the fundamental root of the problem. Next, the article skews to focus on the woman as keeper of the family.

Remember that trailing spouses do include men, and do include those who do not have children. The latter whom not only have to balance the stability of a marriage, but also seek advancement of a legitimate career (lest I continue to fail to remind you) in the shadows of another without the “purpose” of the family. Not to discount the work of those who do have families, of course.

It’s a tough subject.

Settling In, Getting Out

We hired a housekeeper this week. She’s coming three times a week – and before you scoff at the manner in which I’m so easily taking up colonial ways, just know that I live in a house with a LOT of tile floors here, people. Those floors are definitely not cleaning themselves. Plus, she’s a nice lady who will teach me how to make a local coconut-meat stew, it’s been promised!! This was mentioned during our initial meeting and my heart straight up skipped a beat.

This recent acquiescence of colonialism, in conjunction with the fact that we’ve set up our Ikea closet system, means that it’s official. We’re settled! And that’s all it takes in this household, really – a semi-permanent closet setup and a housekeeper. Says a lot about our priorities, shoot.

So naturally, now that we’ve settled in so nicely, the DiploMan says to me, let’s get out. Of course.



It’s been two months, and he’s looking for these outs. For example, there’s a minor medical procedure I might have to get done in Pretoria, and we’ve talked about how it’s a great excuse to explore a new place. We’re twisted. Hence a mad hunt for cheap flights today, for no other reason but because it’s been awhile since we’ve hopped on a plane ($500 to Johannesburg and back, btw. Not bad, internet, not bad).

For now, we’ll stick to wheels. This weekend, we’ve planned a short trip up the coast to Bagamoyo. It’s our first trip out of Dar, and I’m stoked. Of course in planning this one-hour drive, two-day excursion, I can’t help but think of the possibilities. You better believe that $500 flight was just the start to a long string of internet queries.

Let’s not forget Cape Town and Johannesburg. Or Namibia, and Zambia. There’s the entire Serengeti to explore. We have to climb Kilimanjaro (or as it’s known locally, just Kili). We must go to Ngorongoro and trek around the crater. We should probably see the majesty that is Lake Victoria. I want to count how many wildebeest I see during the migration. Drive through deserts in a Land Rover and trek through jungles holding a machete. That’s only sub-Sahara, too. I can’t forget Egypt, Morocco, Algeria. We’ll skip Somalia for now…and during these two years we’ll have friends in Ghana, friends in Rwanda, friends in Kenya, friends in South Africa. Friends in the U.A.E.. Friends all over.


This profession that the DiploMan has taken up, it’s not for everyone. It takes a certain type of person – A person for whom traveling is not an escape, but a way of life. It’s a bit of a freakish thing, I think, this lifestyle, but I must admit I’m getting the hang of it. I like spicy food and I’m totally down with The Wire. I studied abroad for one summer, and I speak about 2.75 languages (these are all common threads I’ve found with Foreign Service folk). Am I fooling anyone?

But you know the real reason I know I’m getting the hang of this crazy lifestyle? How I know I’m fitting in with the band of traveling circus monkeys that we call our friends? Because I, too, am straight up itching to get out.

I know, I know, we’ve just settled in…


All photos from this post were taken in Point Reyes National Park during our trip home to California this May. Bay Area, we love you!

More than the Average American

triple ribbon The mood’s been pretty somber in this little house of ours, and all around the Foreign Service community. We’ve lost another friend, and this time it hits much closer to home.

Yesterday morning, scrolling down my Facebook page, I saw the same updates that I always do – cats doing funny things, links to old school music videos, an increasing number of kids, and of course, photos of food. I was stopped cold when I saw the caption of a friend/the DiploMan’s close colleague. She had lost a friend in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. A quick assumption was later confirmed – Anne Smedinghoff, killed while on her way to donate books to students in a school in Qalat, was indeed among our wide yet deeply interconnected circle of Foreign Service friends.

Suddenly cats doing funny things, links to old school music videos, an increasing number of kids, and photos of food seemed so trivial.

One day and multiple news accounts later, I’ve read up more about the news and about Anne, who was only 25. Death seems so much more arresting and unimaginable at such an age. Anne was in the DiploMan’s A-100 class, which is sort of like a Freshman-class of sorts when you enter the Foreign service. For six weeks, about 80 U.S. citizens from all walks of life learn not only about how to represent the US government abroad but also about each other. Picture lots of class time, but many more dinners, retreats, weekends, lots of happy hours, and even more congratulatory hugs and happy high-fives when you learn where everyone is going to their first post. Anne was one of the youngest in the class, a fresh-out-of-college graduate. Seeing her picture today, I jog my memory and there is faint recollection of meeting her – a soft-spoken yet strong-willed young woman, perhaps so soft-spoken because she was still an adolescent suddenly thrown into circles of adulthood – our crude jokes, our meticulously curated dinner parties, our already jaded views on our 20’s, our somewhat hopeless view of saving the world, of the government, of the opposite sex, of getting older, of…well, of everything.

Maybe I met her, maybe I didn’t. This blog puts my feelings into words; she may have been someone we all knew, representing so much youth and so much enthusiasm in serving our country overseas:

What I am certain I recognized was the smile, the aura of the under-30 crowd, the disarming ordinariness (as opposed to banality) and eagerness of our newest public servants. That aura seems to me the norm now at Foggy Bottom, and in much of the country, and it’s probably a sign of my age as much as an indication of the lure of Washington itself.

Dinner last night was a little less chatty than usual, and we got up a little earlier this morning than on typical Sunday mornings. I can’t help but worry about my friends overseas, our future posts, and most of all my DiploMan, who is sitting in his chair right now reading the New York Times and jamming to his one of his favorite Spotify stations. We are normal people, doing normal work, maybe moving around a little more than the Average American, taking a few more trips to exotic locations than the Average American, but always acting with our best intentions – like delivering books to new schools in war-ravaged nations.

Read more about the news in the NYTimes here, a statement from Secretary Kerry here, and on one of my favorite FS blogs, here. There’s also a heartbreaking statement from the Smedinghoff family, here. The bomber also claimed the lives of three American soldiers, one other civilians, and three Afghans. None of these killed are any less important than our friend Anne.


Pen Pals

There’s something I just signed myself up for…

letters from China

I know that rarely is there something good to end this sentence. Maybe you’re a scientologist because once upon a time, you signed up for free pencils on campus as an undergrad. Or maybe, you’re on a lifelong mailing list for shake weight promotions because you signed up for a gym membership. Or maybe you’ve accidentally endorsed North Korea because you thought you signed up for the mailing list for a hot new restaurant in Amsterdam. But I swear, this time I really think I’ve stumbled across something fun.

Because, what’s more fun than giving, and better yet – receiving!?

I’ve had a few pen pals in my lifetime. Correspondance was so sweet but every so fleeting, arranged only by the teachers I had in my elementary school. Frankly, looking back, I wasn’t a great pen pal…all I talked about were my cats and playing soccer. Way to reel in your audience, Jessie. Sheesh.

China mall

remembering back to a time when going to a mall meant facing behemoths such as this.


So this time, I’m looking forward to making a new, real connection with someone. And receiving a little international present in the mail.  Now off to brainstorm what I’ll be sending off from the states. I do know that Trader Joe’s chocolate chips are worth their weight in gold overseas…

If you or your spouse is in the FS, you should definitely click on over and add yourself to the roster!