Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Heartfelt Thank You

I cannot even begin to express in words the comfort I have gotten from the dozens and dozens of supportive and sympathetic messages I’ve received from friends old and new across the globe over the last few days. This has been a very difficult few days, and the fact that it has been my first few days at my first post has compounded that. I am still actively grieving the loss of my beloved Hattie; even just saying or writing her name brings tears to my eyes, let along looking at pictures or actively remembering. And yet with every email, Facebook message or comment, phone call, and message from the blogosphere, I heal just a little bit quicker. Well-wishes and condolences from family and friends have warmed my heart and will continue to do so in the days and weeks to come. What has particularly amazed and inspired me has been the reaction of the Consulate community. I am new to overseas life in the FS, and I’ve always heard the community likened to a family, but this week I’ve experienced that firsthand. Everyone has been so kind and gone out of their way both to make me feel welcome and to express condolences. It’s an unusual way to get to know people at post, but I feel that much more at home for it. Several members of the community took time out of their weekend to help me bury Hattie, which made a very difficult thing that much easier. I look forward to being able to repay their kindness and cement friendships with my own contributions to the community. (My usual go-to of baked goods will have to wait until the end of Ramadan, though.) The pain is still fresh, though each day really does get a little easier. You all are a big part of that. To each and every one of you, a heartfelt thank you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Memoriam: Harriet “Hattie” Dworak, 2000-2010

I am in Jeddah, having arrived two nights ago.  In a later post I will describe my first impressions of the city and my new life here, but for now I need to grieve.  The myriad of emotions that I have been through over the past 50 hours is indescribable.  I am not feeling strong enough yet to go into detail about what happened, but my beloved friend and faithful companion of seven years, Hattie, passed away before she was released from Customs at the airport.  It is an unspeakable tragedy and one for which I will feel immeasurable guilt and sadness for a long time to come.  While the circumstances of her death were beyond my control, it is very hard to convince myself that it was not ultimately my fault.  I know rationally that I shouldn’t think that, but unexpected loss often brings immense guilt to loved ones.  I am no exception. 

My new colleagues and friends, without exception, have been supportive and comforting beyond words and have gone well and above the call of duty to help me navigate both the bureaucratic and emotional side of this tragedy.  Without their help I would be lost entirely, and I never would have been able to achieve any sort of closure.  Today, in a peaceful corner of the Consulate grounds, with a number of people supporting me, I laid Hattie to rest.  I take comfort in the ability to visit her grave and spend time with her over the course of my tour.

I am heartbroken over the loss and particularly the traumatic circumstances of Hattie’s passing, but I know in time I will be able to remember only the wonderful things from my seven years with her.  From the first time I met her (in the car when my family picked me up from the airport during a college break, when she bounded onto my lap and gave me her patented expectant look and then promptly rolled over for a belly rub), to the countless nights she kept my feet warm, to her endless hours of ‘exercise’ that both fascinated and irritated people, to the past year of living in DC and taking many very hot road trips, we made a great team.  She was quirky and eccentric, but maybe that’s why we bonded so well. 

Here’s to Hattie.  

From Heidelberg With Love

(NB:  I wrote this post in the Frankfurt airport but was kicked off of free internet before being able to post. I want to post it now, unedited, because in the future I will want to remember how excited I was to see Hattie at the end of the journey, even though right now those memories are painful. I did check in both with the flight manager at the gate and the flight attendant on board, who had checked and assured me Hattie was on the plane. In the words of the gate agent, "she [was] making terror for everyone." This made me laugh because I know both how harmless Hattie was but how emphatic she could be when she wanted something. She would have been an excellent guard dog. She was a marvelous companion. See the next post for more.)

Heidelberg, as everyone told me, is a beautiful place. I only have 40 minutes until I board my plane to Saudi (!), so I will only write a short post, but I wanted to do so before forgetting everything once I arrive in the Kingdom. Pictures to follow once I settle in and find my camera cord...

(And now an interruption to my thoughts to be really excited because the airline PA system is broadcasting in Arabic as well as German and English!!! I know it will get old soon, but right now it's all new and exciting.)

I had an aisle seat on a somewhat full flight with an empty seat next to me. Perfect! Not as perfect as being upgraded to the (completely) empty business class, but that didn't happen. I was able to sleep a bit but was mostly restlessly trying to get comfortable.

My flight arrived early, and my bags arrived with me. The story behind this is that I was hoping to be able to check my bags to Jeddah or to have the airline lose my bags so I didn't have to lug them to and from Heidelberg. I had all I needed for the first few days in carry-on. Neither scenario materialized. So all my luggage and I shuttled to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Heidelberg, which I highly recommend. Centrally located with very comfortable rooms and a great Club lounge. Not a lot of old world charm, but plenty of anonymity and all the amenities, which is what I wanted. Their 'light snacks' in the Club lounge was basically all but one of my meals, and I made good use of the included minibar and drinks available in the lounge. Gotta love making the most of per diem! I napped for a couple of hours and then set off.

The Hauptstraße was close to my hotel, so I walked its length to the funicular railway at Kornmarkt. Along the way I popped into a few shops, including the amazingly fun and labyrinthine Kathe Wöhlfart German Christmas Museum. I of course picked up a few trinkets for this year's verboten Christmas tree.

After a short ride, I reached Schloss Heidelberg (the castle). I spent a couple of hours poking around the grounds and the various attractions there, including the world's largest wine keg and the German Apothecary Museum. I walked back to the hotel along the River Neckar; I'd hoped to take a boat ride, but I was too late in the day.

A pleasant dinner at the hotel restaurant later, I repacked and went to bed. This morning I had to fight my way onto the airport shuttle (they had me reserved for a later time) and then had to listen to the driver berate me most of the ride for their mistake, but all that really matters is that I arrived at the airport in plenty of time. At the ticket counter, the agent didn't blink an eye when I checked three bags (I had redistributed two heavy suitcases into three after almost having to pay $350 in Boston for the extra kilograms). Instead she looked at me and asked, "You're allowed three bags, right?" I said yes quickly and emphatically, and that was it. Amazing. So. Three flights with about 65kg of baggage cost me a whopping total of $50. Not too shabby. Of course now I've allocated my rolling carry-on to checked baggage, so I'm left lugging three non-rolling bags. Small price to pay.

In exciting news, Hattie is in Frankfurt as well! She made it out of DC last night without incident (to the best of my knowledge; last I heard she was en route to the airport, and after that no news is good news). I wasn't able to see her here as she's traveling cargo, but I am going to go check with the flight manager shortly to make sure she is getting on our flight with no problems.

And though they may never see this, I want to wholeheartedly thank the several staff members who are working overtime to help facilitate my arrival in the Kingdom tonight. An expediter and a PAS colleague are meeting me with one van at the terminal, while another car and expediter work on getting Hattie cleared through customs. I am so grateful for this assistance. The whole staff has been great about preparing for my arrival. I can't wait to finally meet everyone and start working.

So, my short post has once again turned long, and I am going to sign off and see about boarding the plane.

Here's to finally getting to post!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Off to Ride the Camels!

One very short week later, I'm back at Logan Airport, waiting for my flight to Frankfurt. I will spend a glorious 30 hours in Heidelberg (minus travel time) before heading to the Kingdom. It has been three years since I was last in Europe, so I'm looking forward to it immensely, especially the staying in a nice hotel part. Most of my European experiences as an adult have consisted of hostels and campgrounds, so this will be a nice change.

I suck at packing and at saying goodbye. There has been a lot of both in the last week. And I have to pack one more time before getting to my destination (not counting the move within the compound from my temporary to permanent quarters). So I'm not going to dwell on this aspect of the last week.

My youngest nephew, who is three and a half, doesn't quite understand why I'm always coming home and then leaving again. This time he finally ordered me to "just move back into my house and stay there!" I explained that I have to move far, far away for work but that he can come and visit me and see the camels. Well that part stuck in his head. For the last several days he keeps telling his grandparents and his father and anyone else who will listen that he's going to go visit Aunt Sadie and ride the camels. His grandmother encourages him; his father not so much. Yesterday, though, as I was saying a last tearful goodbye to him and telling him I'd keep the camels company until he visited, I realized how much he'd been thinking about this. He was quiet for a few minutes (an unusual thing), and then I heard him ask his father how he was going to get up onto the camel to ride it. This was the biggest obstacle he could think of with regard to visiting me far, far away. We of course all burst out laughing. So in a sad moment came laughter, as it always does.

And with that, I'm off. Let the adventures begin!