Technically, this is our next “post”. My own address didn’t change, but his did. It’s called an unaccompanied tour, or UT for short (not to be confused with a UTI, though you could argue that parts of both experiences are equally unpleasant), and for many diplomats, these come up as a reality from time to time.
For us, it’s actually our second – the first was when he first started at the Foreign Service. It’s one of the things they don’t tell you much about in the brochures. When you sign up for this diplomat’s wife gig, you might picture yourself at glammy cocktail parties alongside your spouse, champagne in hand, laughing about all the parking tickets you don’t have to pay. While that particular vision isn’t really quite accurate (surprised? if you are, check out these and other myths about the foreign service), usually picturing yourself at least somewhere in the same vicinity as your spouse is a fair expectation. Except for sometimes, you are not. Increasingly, your number will likely come up where separation is the name of the game, usually to places on the map that make it pretty obvious why it’s an unaccompanied tour.
Candidly, these aren’t the most fun, at least not from a family life point of view. But as far as separations go, we don’t have it the hardest by any means. Unlike those that have gone much earlier before us, we have the benefit of technology. Internet might not always be the best in Iraq, but when it is on, things like Skype or FaceTime, even emailing pictures and little video clips will provide a window into daily – even mundane – life. Unlike those that serve in different branches of service, often times in greater danger, we will be able to see each other about every three months or so for a brief break. This makes it feel less like a “full year” and more like a series of trips for several months at a time. This time next year will be here before we know it, or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself (and my children).
A departure for my husband didn’t mean a departure for me. This isn’t always the case, but often times when an unaccompanied tour comes up, the family may have the option to stay at post through the assignment. We won’t be here for the whole assignment for a number of reasons, but having the option to stay here in our house, with our daughter in her school, and the city we have come to love makes this infinitely easier as well. There will be things that throw us for a loop – my return to work and the transatlantic move during the summer being two of them – but those would have thrown us for a loop anyway. In the meantime, we will be able to keep much of our daily life the same.
Even the flying solo part isn’t entirely true. Of the two of us, I’m the one who stayed here, sure, but I’m not at all entirely alone in this. Our house will be full of visitors and family and friends and festivities from now through the new year to keep us company and keep time flying. We have our nanny who travels with us from post to post here, giving tremendous help and maintaining her ever present sense of consistent calm that seems to rub off on everyone else. And we have our community here in Copenhagen, those in our embassy circle, as well as those outside of it. People have been wonderful throughout the run up to this departure, and I’ve been truly touched and grateful. We might be far from our immediate family, but the foreign service community has a way of quickly filling in to become the next best thing.
An unaccompanied tour is often referred to as an assignment and it is, by definition. Using words like “assignment” help us convey that we didn’t choose to break up the gang for a year; we didn’t want to be separated, but we’ll do it because it was asked. Except for we did choose it…kind of…a little bit. Most people who join as diplomats don’t do it to go to those nearly non-existent cocktail parties, and they certainly don’t do it for the money…or the recognition. They do it to represent their country in a globally relevant way. And whatever one might say about Iraq and the myriad of complicated situations there, there is certainly no denying its global relevance. It’s where the job is. And he wants to do the job.
If that’s the case, then it’s off to work – each in our own way… One day down, 364 to go!
Photo by Hatim Belyamani via Unsplash. NB: That’s not actually Iraq in the picture, it’s Morocco. I realize these are two different countries in two different parts of the globe, but as we have just returned from Morocco as a family, for me this landscape ties to our experience of getting ready for this year for separation.