I’ve always liked transition. When I was a programmer, it was starting a new project or learning a new language. When I was a lawyer, it was starting a new case or, four different times, taking a new job with a different law firm. When I was a photographer, it was the change in seasons with, for example, basketball transitioning to baseball. The foreign service is transition to the Nth degree.
Everything we touch is in a constant state of change. Our supervisors, our support staff, our duties, our substantive focus, our living arrangements, and, of course, the city and country in which we live. I arrived in Ottawa just over a month ago. The week before I left Washington, in between packing and trudging through snow to run last-minute errands, I submitted a narrative requesting assignment to a very short list of hardship posts. It was an odd request because Ottawa, by and large, is deemed to be very desirable post. I was certainly not looking to curtail my two-year assignment to Canada because I didn’t want to live in a safe, clean, extremely comfortable Western city.
I did not, however, want to leave the tough posts for others to do and, for personal reasons, the timing works much better for me and my family if I do an unaccompanied tour sooner rather than later. That said, the off-season bidding presented very few options for which I qualified. I don’t speak Arabic, Urdu, Pashtu, or Dari and I don’t have the experience of several tours under my belt. There were only a handful of jobs that I could even suggest, but they were still a long-shot given the general directive that first tour officers should not be assigned to such places. I wrote a one-page narrative on why I thought it was a good idea, organized a very short bid list, and forgot about it.
I was thus a little bit shocked (and thrilled) to get the email. My time in Ottawa will be cut short by a year. I’ll spend some time back in Washington for additional training, and then I’ll be off to Lahore, Pakistan. Although I had applied for a couple of consular jobs as part of that bidding process, my one-year tour in Lahore will not involve visas.
So, as I settle in to this new routine in Ottawa, I am reading about Lahore. The capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, Lahore is 17 miles from the Indian border. There are a myriad of critical political issues at play in the region and, although it is not Ottawa, Lahore has a reputation as being one of Pakistan’s most beautiful and safe urban areas, as well as being the country’s cultural center.
Ah, but the transitions keep coming. I woke up a few days ago to CBC Radio doing the morning news. “45 dead after coordinated bombings in Lahore, Pakistan.” I wasn’t sure if this was a dream or real until I was fully awake and heard the whole story. No doubt things will continue to change over the next year. In the meantime, I’ll continue reading (currently one fiction, The Pakistani Bride, by Bapsi Sidhwa and one non-fiction, Dissent into Chaos by Ahmed Rashid) and trying to focus first and foremost on my current transition here in Canada.