Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Farewell, Jeddah. Farewell, My Faithful Friend.

I still have a few Saudi posts to write and publish, but for now it's time to say goodbye.  I've been saying goodbyes for two months now as numerous others departed post ahead of me.  Today was my day.  Friends hosted a goodbye BBQ for another departing friend and myself, which was wonderfully sweet.  We had a Ramadan Iftar this week where I bid goodbye to some of my best contacts.  Goodbye dinners, goodbye meetings, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.  Now those of who you know me know that I hate goodbyes.  I have discovered over time that the best coping mechanism is avoiding saying goodbye at all to most people.  This cuts back considerably on my tears, even if it is incredibly selfish.

There were tears today as I said goodbye to friends and colleagues (many falling into both categories).  I felt pretty good that I really only lost it at the end of the day when only a few people were there to witness it.  I sent my farewell email moments before logging off so I wouldn't have to see the replies or answer phone calls.  That's really the way I handle things best. 

I have been focused for weeks on checking out, preparing for home leave and training, working on an exit strategy for the cats, ensuring all my ducks were in a row, so to speak.  It's been exhausting and complicated and, occasionally, frustrating.  I knew I'd forget something, but as I closed out my office this afternoon I thought I was doing pretty well.

Until I got home.

Somewhere in the process of packing my two (very overweight) suitcases and pasting trilingual messages on the cats' carriers in hopes of better treatment by flight crews, I remembered Hattie.  I didn't ever go to say goodbye to Hattie.  Earlier this year I purchased a stone grave marker for her, but when it arrived it was so beautiful that I couldn't bear to leave it somewhere I'd never see it again.  I could have bought another, but I just didn't.  I rarely walked out to Hattie's grave over the two years, but whenever I passed it while tooling around the compound I paid my silent respects.  But I never went a last time. 

You see, it was fine for Hattie to be buried at the Consulate while I was living here, but the thought of leaving her here has really hit me hard.  This was never her home; I have nothing but horrifying memories of her short time in Saudi Arabia; it feels as if I'm abandoning her.  I know these feelings are largely irrational and that there is no viable alternative, but it doesn't stop me from feeling very sad.  So sad and teary that the cats may go willingly into their carriers tonight if it means getting away from my grief. 

The truth of the matter is, no matter how great my tour here was - and it was a great tour - it is clouded by its tragic beginning.  Jeddah and Hattie are inextricably linked for me.  And leaving her here alone, even two years after her death, is heartbreak all over again.  It's not helped by my overwhelming fear of what might happen to the cats during our journey, no matter how carefully I've prepared for their safety.  So for the next 30 hours I will be a bit of a basket case. 

A friend reminded me that I took the tragedy of what happened to Hattie and became an advocate for the safe and affordable transport of pets for Foreign Service personnel.  I was not alone in this endeavor, and our collective efforts paid off.  That does give me some comfort.  That ensures her legacy has a positive impact. 

Saying goodbye to Jeddah is harder than I expected, which shouldn't surprise me.  I think I'll need to write another post about what I mean by that, because this post is taking too sad a turn, and I don't have the emotional energy to turn things around right now. 

So I'll finish packing my bags, take my last shower here, and watch the Olympics.  Soon I'll be on the way to the airport.  I'm going home.  But leaving a piece of my heart here, just as I have in many other places.  Maybe, in the scheme of things, not saying a formal goodbye was okay.  Just as I try so hard to avoid goodbyes, maybe this is for the best.

So if you're ever at the Consulate in Jeddah, go find the quiet spot in the sand beyond the mailroom where a spot is marked with several concrete blocks.  Say hello to Hattie for me.  But not goodbye.  Goodbye is too difficult.


Kelly said...

This is so sweet. So many of us have left pets behind. Would you mind if I shared your post on the AAFSW facebook page?

Sadie said...

Thanks Kelly - that's so sweet. I'd be honored if you shared it.

Nomads By Nature said...

Sadie, leaving a post is complicated and sad enough without adding leaving a final resting place of a loved one. Sending you virtual hugs as you move on and praying for the safe arrival of you and your kitties.

Kate said...

Hattie's story continues to absolutely haunt me, especially as we prep for posting with our hound. Poor, sweet girl. It literally keeps me up at night.

After all of this, do you have any words of advice? Is it better to go cargo? Under the plane? Connection? No connection (if possible)? Any special considerations for shipping to the Middle East?

Heather Pishko said...

Sadie, have you ever considered buying a ticket for a family member or friend so that you can take your cats in the cabin of the plane? After my first post with my cats as accompanied baggage, and all the worries that also accompany, I now cough up the moola for the extra ticket. It is SO NICE to have them with me at all times, and it's also nice to have someone help me get settled the first few days at a new post. :)

Anonymous said...

Sadie, I read your post via AAFSW on FB. A very touching post. I am swallowing hard now, this lump in my throat. I know what it's like to lose a pet, but I can only imagine what it's like to leave a loved pet in a foreign country. We have a cat and I'm sure that one day we will have to leave her behind, too. I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better. Sending you a virtual hug. --- Tiffany

Sara said...

I hope it gets easier for you. As Digger said, it doesn't hurt less, just less often. I hope that rings true for you as you start a new chapter in your life.

Good luck on your flights!

Sadie said...

Thanks to all of you for your kind words and thoughts

Kate - I am going to do a post shortly on my experience with traveling with pets as excess baggage. My personal opinion is to avoid cargo if possible. The best option is obviously direct, but that's harder to come by. For the ME, make sure you work with post early and often - restrictions and temperatures make it particularly difficult.

Heather, having a cat sherpa was my backup plan. However, for Saudi it's more complicated as getting someone a visa is a long, difficult process. My mother was willing to come and likely would have qualified for a visa, but it would have required many months of lead time. It was also unclear at the time whether Lufthansa and Frankfurt were allowing pets in cabin this summer. Luckily the excess baggage option worked out.