Not so fast! We do still have more than half a year left in Guadalajara. But, bidding ended in November, and despite all the craziness and frustration and stress, things actually turned out fine for us. We managed to achieve what we have come to think of as the triple crown of tandem bidding: two jobs in our respective cones (management for Andy, public diplomacy for me), at the same post, and in a place we are excited to discover.
Off to India we’ll go! Chennai specifically.
According to the Interwebs, Chennai is known as the Detroit of India, so it’s probably destiny really. Andy’s going to have to take a bit of time away from his cheering for the Tigers, though, to learn enough cricket so as not to embarrass himself. Or me. Mostly me.
Have you even heard of Chennai? Probably not. Even though we have been talking about it for months, my mom still keeps accidentally calling Chennai China, which leads me to believe it’s not a place people most people know. We might not have heard it either if a family previously posted in Chennai hadn’t recently arrived in Guadalajara.
Well, let’s see. Chennai is India’s fourth largest city with 4.9 million people, making it larger than Los Angeles. It’s home to the world’s second largest urban beach. Tamil is the primary language spoken around town, although we won’t receive language training as most people also speak English. It’s located in a predominantly Hindu region, and thus is largely vegetarian.
Chennai is not as well-known or tourist friendly as someplace like Mumbai or New Delhi, but we were sold by the breathable air (a rarity these days in India), the great travel options both within India and throughout the region (cheap, direct flights to the Maldives, Bangkok, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and more), the prospect of doing our jobs in a language we feel mostly competent in (English), and the fact that by all accounts Chennai is both an interesting and a family friendly place to be.
We won’t know specifics about our housing for a quite a while, but we’ll likely be in a nice home with a large yard, in an area with a reasonable commute to the consulate. The school where Flynn will start kindergarten is supposedly great — although Andy is having trouble coming to terms with the fact that the tuition at his son’s elementary school is higher than his college’s. We don’t like to think of ourselves as those people. But, who are we kidding? We are going to be working two demanding jobs in a place with affordable household help, so we are already having conversations about how to structure the schedules of our A and B shift nannies. We probably became those people a long time ago.
Despite the benefits of this job and lifestyle, there are challenges too. For instance, as happy as we are to have wound up with India, as much as we’re looking forwarding to our jobs and all the curry we can eat, I feel compelled to mention that it’s not what we originally sought. Since I know a lot of folks considering signing on to the Foreign Service peruse blogs like this one, I think it’s important to be honest about what worldwide availability really means. We originally wanted to stay in Latin America for the sake of our kids’ Spanish skills and to be closer to our families in the U.S. But two jobs that worked for us both weren’t easy to come by. And we’re worldwide available, after all. We get some say in where we wind up, but only so much.
During the course of bidding, we found ourselves asking questions like… Can we justify taking our kids to a critical crime post… somewhere armed muggings and in-home invasions are the norm? Is that a risk we’re willing to take in order to allow them to maintain their Spanish? Or would a sleepy, safe post somewhere else in the world be better, even though there they would have to take malaria meds with unknown long-term consequences? What about a lively, bustling city that we would surely enjoy, but with air pollution so bad that the kids could develop asthma or worse? These are the kinds of things we Foreign Service Officers weigh, not whether we would prefer waffles in Belgium or baguettes in Paris.
People hear that we’re diplomats and sometimes assume we are going to fancy functions in Vienna or Prague, but the reality is that there are many, many, many more countries in the world than those in Western Europe. And, usually, the diplomats who end up in Western Europe served somewhere like Pakistan or Iraq first, something that Andy or I could do too if we wanted, but that would involve living away from our children for a year — a sacrifice we are not willing at this point to make. But some people are. Because we Foreign Service Officers (and families) all do make sacrifices… it’s just a question of which ones.
To be sure, there are perks to our jobs — like the nannies, like Flynn’s expensive kindergarten, like being paid to do work that’s meaningful and interesting — but there are always sacrifices and hardships too. This time around, we are sacrificing our kids’ Spanish skills and proximity to the U.S. in order to serve our country in a place that is safe, with good medical care and no major health hazards.
Speaking of hardships — hardships far worse than any we know — if you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you have probably seen that Chennai is currently being attacked by the worst flooding in 100 years. Please keep the people of Chennai in your thoughts.