This “home leave” is over. Today I leave for my “onward post” in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I left Vietnam in July, more than two months ago. After a few good training courses in DC, and some quality time with family, I feel re-energized and ready for the next challenge.
The Department requires us to stay in America at least 20 days between posts, so that we can get re-acquainted with America. I suspect that this requirement was more meaningful before the Internet allowed us to keep in touch with the news and with family back home so easily. Home leave is a real hardship for officers who don’t have a permanent house in the U.S., especially for people with big families. Either they have to impose on relatives, or else spend a fortune on a short-term rental. “Hemorrhaging money” is a common phrase on our Facebook group.
I wasn’t able to do as much as I wanted this time, unfortunately, but we did get to do some traveling. A cross-country train trip on Amtrak showed us some really beautiful parts of the country.
And of course we really enjoyed Michigan’s summer weather.
All good things must come to a end. Today I’m on an airplane to my next post. This time, I’m really putting myself out of my comfort zone. I know almost nothing about Bangladesh, I don’t speak Bengali, and I’m going to be in a supervisory position for the first time in my State Department career. All of that means that I will make a fool out of myself and get myself into ridiculous situations even more than in my previous tours.
So there’s a protocol for this, too, I learned this week.
As we received the news of John McCain’s death, we began preparing for condolences. It’s human nature for people to want to pay their respects, and we were not surprised that so many Vietnamese people were saddened by Senator McCain’s death. He is remembered here in Vietnam as a soldier turned statesman, who worked hard to normalize relations with the United States. They are especially impressed by the fact that he was treated so harshly as a POW here, and yet put aside his personal pain in the interest of a greater good. He was the embodiment of their country’s resolve to overcome the painful past and work toward a better future.
There is a specific State Department protocol for a book of condolences. We set up a signing station in our American Center, and publicized times for the public to come in and sign.
The pages of the condolence book will be sent to Washington, D.C. and added to the international collection from our embassies and consulates around the world.
Regardless of whether one agrees with his political party’s policies and agenda, his reputation as a man who put country first is universally admirable. The Vietnamese people held him in great regard. All the press coverage here, and social media, wrote moving eulogies. Even the social media trolls on our Facebook page were silent. It seems that Vietnam is unified in its respect for John McCain.
We just enjoyed a week at home in Michigan, before leaving for post. We’ll fly out of Dulles Airport in DC for our “Permanent Change of Station” trip to Vietnam. (The trip is neither to a station, nor is it permanent. Just another quirky term in the State Department.)
Summer in Michigan is great. Warm but not hot weather, cool evenings, low Midwest prices, no traffic, laid-back people. And my house.
I love my house, neighborhood and home town.
We spent time with our kids and family, got together with some old friends, did some last minute shopping, and enjoyed the chance to relax before the madness starts again.
And now vacation is over, and the crazy resumes. Goodbye for now, East Lansing, thanks for a nice time. Next stop: Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, Vietnam.