Has it come to this? My letter writing confined to long bus and plane rides, those moments of drawn out transition when my brain has a chance reset, reacquaint itself with thoughts that do not involve the meetings or reports of the day, the latest Jamaican political drama, whether last night’s rain storm carved any new potholes along my route to and from the embassy? In my last letter, written on a bus trip from New York to Washington, I promised to be a bit more prolific in my writing… sorry.
But now, once again, ears popping in the plane’s changing pressure, Thelonious Monk on my headphones, mind numb from the 4:00 am ride to the airport, I can leave one The Caribbean behind and delve into a Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends in Minnesota.
And now, a few hours later, of all the places to get stuck, Terminal D of Miami-Dade International Airport, a rather desolate stretch of gates and doughnut vendors. 40 mile per hour winds in Chicago, they say, everything delayed. Now wishing I had a direct flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul. But MIA does give me an opportunity to read, write, and people watch. I can see the flip side of the immigrant’s story, for example. In Jamaica, I routinely deal with people who are migrating/ want to migrate to the USA. This airport, however, seems to employ almost exclusively people for whom English is not a first language, people from every Latin American country, people who take your lunch order in English before jumping back into rapid fire Spanish conversations with their coworkers. People who come to a new country and work very hard, hopefully legally and hopefully for something better than they had before.
Sooner or later I’ll touch down in Minnesota, though, and a blast of November air will cement the physical transition away from the tropics and away from life as a “diplomat” – in quotes as a useful replacement to what would otherwise be a long and ultimately inadequate description of this strange and wonderful existence. The psychological transition will take a bit longer, since I haven’t seen my friends or family or home for over 14 months, and I have barely set foot in an American supermarket or department store for that long. For all the similarities, there are so many differences.
Much thought has been going into the commitment I seem to have made that will define the next seven years of my life: in less than a year I will begin ten months of language training before heading to Beijing, China for a five year tour at the embassy. Well, a one year “junior officer” tour in 2013 and a three year “mid level” tour in 2015, with a year of language study in china in between. I am participating in a pilot program put in place with the hopes of building a corps of diplomats highly proficient in the Chinese language – anyone who thinks US-China relations will not be an increasingly important theme has not been paying attention. I am very proud to be a part of this program. The prospect of living and working in Beijing for five years of my life evokes all sorts of excitement and anxiety.
And finally, in Minneapolis, a few inches of snow have already fallen since I’ve been here. It’s going to be a good two weeks.