I just moved into my “permanent” housing (“permanent” in government-speak means “for two years”). When I arrived a post, the Embassy didn’t have a place for me to live yet. So I stayed in a small serviced apartment for seven weeks. It was OK, but small and sterile. I was glad to get into my permanent house this week. And it’s big. For the first time in my (short) career, I am not in an apartment. I am in a “villa,” which might be government-speak for “too much house.”
When we are posted overseas, the Department has to provide housing for us. There are many reasons for this. Sending people abroad is expensive. We are here to do a specific and important job. Asking us to take time to house-hunt an inefficient use of our time. Time taken up by house-hunting is time that we can’t focus on our jobs.
Another reason is safety. Unfortunately, building codes in many countries around the world aren’t up to American standards. And like the houses, social conditions abroad are not always stable. The Department is responsible for our safety. For these and a number of other reasons, people smarter than I am decided that it makes fiscal and security sense for the Department to choose where we live.
I am totally on board with that. I like to be safe. Living a long and natural life, safe from earthquakes and violent riots, is very near the top of my bucket list.
Living in government-supplied housing has advantages, none of which I want to gloss over. In the nearly six years on the job, I have only felt unsafe one time (thanks for nothing, fire-suppression systems in Country X). While at post, I usually feel the safest when I am at in my office in the Embassy, and at home in my government-approved housing. When something goes wrong (*ahem* smoke detector batteries, *ahem*), the facilities management people are there quickly, and solve the problem for me.
The downside is that the Department has to source housing from available properties on the local market. I remember one of my friends was shocked when I told her we don’t live in a sealed Embassy compound. Well, we do, in some countries where security concerns make it necessary. But most of the time we live in rented apartments in the city where we work. We shop for groceries where the locals shop, and eat in restaurants where the locals eat. And we live in houses that typically were built for local people. I’ve lived in some places that could be described as “quirky.” I’ve witnessed in horror the hideous wallpaper and lighting fixtures that other people have lived with. One of my coworkers here has a kitchen with no sink. Yes, that’s right. No sink.
I recently learned that Bangladesh is a seismically-active zone. Meaning that there are earthquakes here. When I was assigned my house, the housing board bragged that my house is “seismically sound.” Meaning that it won’t collapse on top of me in the event of an earthquake. That is a plus to me, as I mentioned above.
Government housing also (usually) comes furnished. The Department bought furniture with durability in mind, not fashion. Archeologists hypothesize that the Department bought a large collection of furniture some time in the early 1800s. That furniture is still in use today. It is in my house. And “beautiful” and “stylish” are words that refuse to be associated with it.
The house has been in the “pool” for several years. Many diplomats have lived in this house over the years. The facilities folks in the Embassy do a good job of upkeep. My mother likes to say the a coat of paint covers a multitude of sins. Probably true, but some sin doesn’t wash clean.
A few days in now, I no longer get lost in the house. I accidentally walked into one of the bathrooms several times the first day, when I was intending to go into one of the bedrooms. And speaking of bathrooms. I think that I have four full bathrooms: one downstairs (blue bathtub), and three upstairs (pink bathtub, green shower, and maroon shower). For a single guy, this is too much house. The house also has a small yard. I have to cut my grass, or hire someone to do it for me.
The stress of setting up housekeeping is minimal, compared to the relief of finally having a “permanent” home. Living in a hotel room, no matter how large, is stressful. As soon as my HHE (household effects) arrives, I can really make this house a home.
So far, the best part of this house is this one piece of furniture. I had one of these in my apartment during my first tour. This one is even better.
I think I will be happy here.