Thursday, October 28, 2010


Resurfaced memories. It's why we have so many tchotchkes lying about. An Indian elephant's decorative headdress, a Turkish cat figure, a carved drinks bar from Thailand. So many reminders of past days.

The other day I had a Christian radio station playing in the car. Often I'll listen to 89.7, they have a ton of programs about Focus on the Family, HomeWord, etc., that I find helpful in my day-to-day parenting. They play some modern Christian music sometimes too. The other day I listened to 107.9 which offers more church music and Biblical teachings. I don't care for their Biblical offerings, they're pretty dry, but the music brings me back to the days my dad was organist at St. Michael's parish in Annandale. He had that position for about 15 years and I sang in his choir for the years I was around in high school and college. On the radio, a men's quintet sang "With a Voice of Singing" and I flashed back to the times we sang that in church. It's such a happy song, and I know all the parts. You can't help but learn every part when in a choir, right? Though the clip I linked to isn't the men's group I mentioned, I thought the high school kids who performed it did a great job.
(Here's one of my favorite songs from 89.7: How You Live by Point of Grace)
As everyone knows who reads this blog or is in the FS, it's bidding season. Mid-level bids were submitted in the beginning of October, CDOs deliberate, handshakes begin to go out on 8 November. Everyone who reads this blog also knows that currently Ian is a Career Development Officer for Entry Level Officers, aka The New Guys. Part of his job brings him to FSI for each new A100 class, so roughly every 6-8 weeks he's there as part of the CDO panel talking about bids, expectations, realities, etc. Since the beginning his talk has been about managing expectations when bidding. The bidding methods have changed since we joined. Back then we received a list of roughly 80 positions, chose our Top 20, and numbered them 1-20. Now, the A100 class receives the same number of roughly 80 positions, and ranks them all in groups or high/medium/low. Managing expectations means you don't put Rome as a High and mark everyone else Low. Trust me, that's the quickest way to get something from the very bottom of your list because CDOs aren't impressed by list twisting. Be reasonable, understand World Wide Availability means just that, have a good number of Highs, a serious chunk of Mediums and the stragglers as Lows. This way you'll feel pretty good about whatever you get, and you're more likely to get something nearer to the top.
Ian illustrates his lecture on realistic lists and being open-minded with the tale of our first bid list. The story has gotten around, and now there are those who doubt its veracity. Some think he's making it up to make a point. Guess what. He's not. For those naysayers out there who see the limited time you have to pull together your list during A100, you know that at best you can kinda-sorta do serious research into 3, maybe maybe 4 posts. The ones that strike you right off as "That would be cool, let's try to go there" and which end up as your High bids. The rest you'll group into rough lumps... the Far East sounds cool, oh, and we've always wanted to go to Central America - those end up as Mediums... we really don't want to go to Africa since the baby can't take Malaria meds, the -Stans are way too cold for my liking - those end up as Lows.
When we pulled together our first bid list, our four kids were aged 18mo-6years. High schools didn't factor in, most posts have decent elementary schools even the places off the beaten path and we figured that doing a smaller, harder post with limited resources would be easier with little kids than say, now. The youngest at 18mo could take meds if needed. Ian had barely been out of the U.S. and was ready for an adventure. I spent 8 years of my youth in Africa between Dem Rep Congo (Zaire), Algeria and Niger, and was ready to go back.
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso made our #1 spot. As far as we knew, only one other person even put Ouaga on their list (remember, back then we didn't have to rank all of them, just our Top 20 from the whole list), and he put it at #2. We were ready. We just knew Ouaga was ours.
On flag day we didn't even hear the CDOs call Ian's name because the flag held up wasn't one we recognized. It wasn't in our top choices. It took a couple pokes from his neighbors for Ian to realize it was truly him they were calling. #16 on our list. #16! Ouaga was given to the other guy! #16 wasn't in Africa. #16 wasn't a small post. #16 was something we barely glanced at, more of a "Uh, we need more posts I guess this one is OK" sort of choice. #16 was a position in Manila, Philippines that would require us to pack up and move in 3 months. We hadn't even cracked open a book on Manila, didn't know anything about the language, hadn't seen a thing on its schools, didn't know squat about it other than it was really far away.
Manila ended up being a great post. We're so glad we served there and looking back wish we'd appreciated it so much more than we did. We complained a lot (the pollution, the kids getting pinched everywhere we went, the smell of pee, the entire house was white... yeah, we were complainers and I apologize for that), and it took moving to Togo after that to realize just how lucky we had been to serve our first tour in The Philippines. Going to Togo led to us moving to India where we met some of our best friends. Chennai led us back to the States, just the right timing for matters that need attention. And now... come Monday we'll be able to say where we're off to next, and (more important to my mom) when.
We didn't get Ouaga and we were baffled, but a different path was laid out for our family and the moral of the story is... that's the point. As Ian tries to get each A100 group of ELOs to understand: Don't get fixated on any one Post, accept that possibly what you want and what the service needs, along with what the CDOs know about different Posts, all play into your assignments. And most of the time, it works out better than you expect.
So yes, the story of our bid list featuring Ouagadougou and resulting in Manila is true. Pass it on.

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