Thursday, December 21, 2006

Travel On The Red

In other words, respecting the issuance of Diplomatic and Special passports...

In about 6 hours I leave for 'home', aka, where my parents and brother Greg currently are. I've been stuck here in Canada writing my final exams and as such, can only start packing all that I need for my trip home tonight. This particular post in the Caribbean poses an interesting dilemma for the Winter Holidays, as I am bringing more articles with me for my parents; comforts of home that they can't get anywhere else (like Tim Horton's Coffee and Liptons Red Rose Tea), little things that living in Canada one takes for granted. It got me thinking what other 'little things' I guess people take for granted when asking me about my impending trip home... mostly if I know how lucky I am (I do) and how much fun I am going to have (I don't). But most importantly they ask what privileges I get as I travel on my diplomatic passport, a burgundy book seemingly filled with endless law-breaking possibilities.

And so I write.

The diplomatic passport I hold in my hand is the passport I use on 'official travel'; meaning that I can only travel on the red to and from my parents post and nowhere else in the world. Within Canada I have had to use it on a lark, when my regular passport expired and my drivers license was still stuck in last nights clubbing purse. This way the privileges my parents have worked years and years for can and only will apply to the post they are currently serving.

I admit: I go through the significantly smaller 'dips and locals' line at the airport, meaning I clear customs and pick up my baggage long before the pour soul who is caught at the end of the touri line ever makes it halfway. I also go through security pretty seamlessly, but that is more a testament to my innocent demeanour and cooperative and behaved personality. Even when I readily offer to turn on my Ipod or laptop, or mention that I am wearing a necklace, rings, maybe a buckle on my mary-jane shoes to the security guard at the metal detector, I am usually waved on through with no issues whatsoever... but not because I am holding a diplomatic passport; but because I am a good citizen and not a threat.

Movies like Lethal Weapon 2 give the impression that with my diplomatic passport I can shoot a cop in front of another cop without penalty, and events such as the Russian diplomat driving drunk and killing a woman and injuring another give the impression of an impenetrable fortress of immunity from which I and all other diplobrats can disobey any law we feel does not suit our immediate needs. Let me tell you now; that is absolutely NOT true.

Think about it; why would the government issue such power to someone who would abuse it? Does that give a good impression of the country the diplomat is representing if he or she lies, cheats, steals, murders, rapes, or destroys? I don't think so, and neither should you. Sure, if I am accused of a crime at post I will be deported back to Canada for trial, but why would I do that in the first place? Why would I take a full licence at post when here in Canada I can't even get into the front seat of a car without a full G with 5 years experienced driver by my side? Why would I rob a bank or museum or some rich guy at post when I have a good job here in Canada? Why would I do or deal drugs... period? Logically, it doesn't make sense for the representatives of a country to be on their worst behaviour and have the country they portray defend and protect them.

Not to say that immunity is not handy. Oh no; diplomatic immunity was originally issued so that diplomats of both sexes, all races and religions can go about their business without harm. With this protection, each countries diplomats can establish good relations with each other so that their immunity-ace might never need to be played. But you know what, shit happens. Diplomatic immunity is the governments way of protecting the asses of their workers, and in turn, the asses of their countrymen and women visiting other nations. In the end, we are there to help you.

So next time you see a diplomat, or a diplobrat travelling on the red, don't be too harsh or judgemental. We're travelling for you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Another Day, Another... Dolce?

Myth: All diplomats are filthy rich. Fact: All diplomats are employed and thus paid by the government.

This question, or assumption is one I get quite often, is that because my parents are diplomats then my family must be loaded. Hence the term 'diplobrat' because really, I and all the rest of the children of the foreign service must all be spoiled selfish little brats with no concept of work, money, savings or the meaning of a good hard day's job. Magazines and newspapers splash pictures of us in our fancy dresses drinking champagne and nibbling on exotic meats and cheeses, mingling with royalty and nobility and other high society personnel while snubbing the wait-staff who bring us our snob water, all the while littering wherever we step because 'someone else will clean it up!'.

Except not really. Diplomats, such as my parents, do have money... but that doesn't mean I do.

An ex-boyfriend once shamed me (on my way to work, mind you!) about my supposed "high society" status which made me '100 yards in front of him' and one of 'the lucky girls'... you know, the kind you see on laguna beach who's mothers or fathers or whatevers pay their 4,000$ credit card bills, most of which they spent on hoodies or something ridiculous. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is NOT the case; at least not with me. Yes, I admit that thanks to the hard work of my father and mother, both of which have been in the service for over 25 years, my brother and I have had more opportunities for education, for advancement, for the pleasures in life that every parent wishes to bestow on their children. While I acknowledge the great sacrifices that my parents have made for the benefit of my brother and I, I will not apologise for my parents choices to reap the benefits of their work in whichever way they so choose to.

I live in an apartment that my parents own. They invested in it and will turn a profit when we sell it, as supposed to sinking money into rent while they are at post. My tuition is taken care of for university, and I get assistance from them if my books cost more than 500$ (which, I can tell you, they do). My mother insists that I am too skinny, so she sends me money to buy food. Everything else that I do/have/need/want, I get for myself.

It's not like they haven't taught me the value of work. I had chores to do as soon as I could do them; I got what I needed but not always what I wanted... and eventually at 16 I discovered that it was a hell of a lot easier to get a job and work for the money I needed to buy the things I wanted than have to justify to another person why I wished to have whatever I wanted at the time. So from the age of 16 to where I am now, 22, I have had a job either part time or full time, while I was going to school. In fact, for the past 6 years that I have been working, I spent 4.5 working 2 jobs at the same time. That's right: a diplobrat working 2 jobs, unglamorous ones too, to buy the nice clothing you see on her today.

I let my girlfriends borrow some pieces from time to time... I enjoy having them 'go shopping' in my closet for outfits they don't want to buy and never wear again. I do it because I am a generous person, and also enjoy shopping in other peoples closets. Most of the time my friends give my clothing back to me; and some of the really lovely ones wash them before returning them. But there have been others who have borrowed piece after piece after piece and have yet to return them. I can't help but wonder why... is it because they think I won't notice? Or is it because I have "so much clothing" that really, what is a dress here or a skirt there?

Well... a dress here or a skirt there, and every subsequent piece hanging in my (or your) closet is actually a much prettier physical representation of the hours of my life spent earning what I wear. I work for my clothing.

Contrary to popular myth, "daddy" did NOT buy it for me. "Daddy" didn't give me the money to buy it either. "Daddy" doesn't even receive the credit card bill at the end of the month. "Daddy" has nothing to do with my shopping because if he did I wouldn't buy half as much clothing/shoes/accessories/purses/shampoo as I do.

I admit that I have a walk-in closet full of clothes. Nice clothes... so many, in fact, that I have run out of hangers to hang and space to put whatever is still folded nicely and not in a pile on my floor. But despite their disheveled appearance and ability to disappear right in front of my eyes, each and every piece of clothing that I own represents the countless numbers of hours that I spent working for the money to buy them. I have been working since I was 16 to buy myself the pretty things I want without having to justify wanting it.

I am no martyr here: my basic necessities of shelter, food and education are met by my parents. I am by NO means struggling, but everything else that you see is all me. I'm just insulted by the fact that as soon as people find out that my parents are diplomats that all of a sudden the past 6 years of my life spent working some really shitty jobs is suddenly erased by the misconception of invisible wealth.

Really. The possessions that I have, be it clothing, shoes, technology... whatever, isn't a testament to my family's supposed wealth. Oh no; it's more a testament to my work ethic, and not to mention, my fabulous taste.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Three-Year Itch

Diplomatic life is strange... not so much when you're in the middle of living it; but when you've been out of it so to speak for a while, which I have been in a sense, you start to notice things that you once thought were perfectly normal ... but in reality it's not. I get that my childhood and subsequent upbringing is less-than-normal; but one aspect that I have come to notice about myself as a result of the Diplomatic lifestyle is what I've dubbed FSS: the Foreign Service Syndrome. It's manifestations have drawn attention to my sporadic and uncertain lifestyle, many a times where I've found myself explaining away my neurosis without really taking a step back to wonder why I actually do what I do, and is it really because I'll always be a bit of a diplobrat? Or is it just because I am simply plain weird, regardless of where/when and how I grew up?

One aspect of the FSS that manifests itself often in me is the title: the three-year itch. It is this feeling of wonder in the base of my head... the wonder of 'why am I still here? Isn't it time to go?'. The last time I felt this strongly to move, pack all my things and disappear to a foreign country was in 2003; and again it surfaces in 2006; and before I felt it in 2000... after moving to Canada in 1997. And it's not just the feeling of moving countries; I can't belong to an organization or group or community or JOB for that fact for longer than three years without the FSS creeping up on me to tell me that it is time to go.

This concept of FSS raises a lot of questions, most of which I really don't know how to answer... but I'll try. 'Why am I still here?' Simple: Education. It is cheap, it is plentiful, and it is exceptional. It's not that I don't like Canada; I love Canada. Canadians must know that they, well we, live in the greatest country on the face of this planet for reasons I'll never fully be able to explain. Canada is exquisite. It is beautiful, it is brave, and it is free; sure the PST and the GST takes away 14% of my money, it is so cold right now in my apartment that the heat is on full blast plus my space heater is struggling to reach its preset temperature of 30 degree Celsius and in some parts of the world people either don't know where or who we are or they think we are Americans... but I can break my arm tomorrow, walk in to a hospital and get it fixed without having to wiggle out my wallet from my purse; I can travel anywhere in the world without fear (for now... and where I'd want to travel; I'm not stupid) and I can say and believe what I want without the risk of condemnation. No... it is not because I am sick of Canada; Canada is incredible. I am so lucky to be a Canadian, to be born free and to stay that way, and although I probably won't work here, I'll still consider Canada the closest thing I have to a true 'home'. But my education is the only reason I have stayed behind because it is actually my golden ticket to freedom.

Which brings me to my second question: 'Isn't it time to go?' ... almost. The beauty of a Canadian degree in my chosen field is that I can go anywhere and work anywhere, but until I get my degree and pass the boards I'm stuck. The only time I can travel is on vacation or to see my family, which is nice mind you, but it is not the same feeling of relocation, of a fresh start, of fresh faces and places and experiences just waiting for you... that is, until you leave again in 3 years.

I guess what I miss about the FS life is the idea of a fresh start: that all the mistakes you've made, all the people you don't like, all the places you've been to that make you sad or you simply don't enjoy will all be left behind in lieu of a new adventure. True friends stay in touch, especially with creations such as Facebook and emails and whatnot... and there is no feeling like the feeling of unlimited potential that you get after moving to a new city, a new, state, a new province, a new country, or a new Continent. Each new environment breeds possibilities, some of which you had before and some of which you'll never have again; but all of these possibilities would simply not be had you decided to stay put.

This rush of potential is my drug; I am hooked on the idea of starting over, of going somewhere where nobody knows my name or where I've come from or where I am going... even if only for a few weeks until I acclimatize to this new environment I've decided to conquer. So in light of these tremendous opportunities that have been my norm for the better part of my life... is my three-year-itch really that strange? I certainly hope not... you have no idea what you're missing if it still is.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Are You Ready To Begin?

Home. It is a funny concept to me.. but not because I don’t have a home per say… like, I live in an apartment, but the idea of a place so familiar, so welcoming and inviting as to have the ability to draw one back after years and years away is … well, foreign. Maybe because for the greater part of my life, home was only home for 3 years, and then it was time to go somewhere new. It causes great confusion to most people I meet that 'home' for me can and does change at least once every 3 years. It is also confusing that although I say where my 'home' is, it's not where I was born, where I am from, or even where I am going. To me, home is where my parents are... and it just so happens to change a lot.

My name is Carrie. Not really, but you get the point. I’m 22 and right now I live in Canada. My current ‘home’ is somewhere in the tropics; meaning my family is a good 8 hours away by plane, a trip I make twice a year. For the first 12 years of my life I lived overseas: various parts of Asia with a brief stop in the Americas; and for the next 12 years I will be in Canada finishing my undergrad in a health science field. So why did I live in so many places? The answer is simple: my parents are diplomats. Everyday ordinary people who have been appointed to represent a government in its relations with other governments, or more importantly, people who use skill and tact in dealing with others. They have been in the service for 30 years, meaning my older brother and I have also been in the service for our entire lives.

At first glance the diplomatic life looks glamorous: movies such as Lethal Weapon 2, The Constant Gardner, and to a lesser extent James Bond make it seem as if diplomats have it easy: We’re rolling around in the tax-payers money, jet-setting to exotic places with people, houses, cars and money at our disposal, attending sexy parties in designer gowns and enough jewelry to power a small island hanging from our necks. Well let me tell you… if the dip life was anything like I had just described, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this: I’d be enjoying every second of it!

But if you look deeper, you’ll see the opposite.

My parents left me 3 years ago on post after spending 7 years back in Canada. This would turn out to be the first post that neither my brother nor I would accompany them. My brother Greg and I stayed in Canada to pursue a better education than we could receive in a third world country. Yes, the tropical island paradises are third-world countries once you step outside the front door of the resort. That means my closest biological family member is 2 hours away by train or car and has been for the past 3 years. My parents are a plane ride away in a different time zone... Hell, not even in this hemisphere. And I'm here. At 19 most teenagers move away to university; far enough to gain independence but close enough to come home if they really needed to. In my case, I didn't leave the nest: the nest left me.

So I am alone. The foreign service life is in a word, lonely. Family wise, I am alone here; my brother is alone, my parents are together but my father is often away on trips, so there are points in time where my entire family is separated from each other. And it’s been like that for as long as I can remember.

Does it bother me? Sometimes. I miss my parents and I miss my brother… but the life I’ve lead thus far at the beck and call of the government, I’ve become so used to being alone it’s at times hard to function otherwise. Everyone in my family is used to doing their own thing; to keeping themselves occupied with work or school or other social activities that although we know that we are family by blood, we’re family mostly in name. We know each other. We love each other. But we don’t see each other very often. The Foreign Service life splits families apart in more ways than one: divorce is high, family distress is high, and just wait until you hear about the children, such as myself, who grow up moving every 3 years which is, if you think about it, long enough to establish roots and finally feel like you belong... but not long enough for you to reap the benefits of these new-found ties that you eventually break, no matter what promises you make to yourself or your friends.

A relatively young diplomat and I were talking one sunny afternoon when I arrived 'home' for the first time. It was/is his very first post, and he has a young family; 2 children, around the same age when my brother had already lived in 2 countries and I was going to my first post... so 5 and 4 years old. He was confiding in me his worries about his children: How would they grow up? Would they be traumatized by the lifestyle he chose to lead? Would they be forgotten in the hustle and flow of the business of diplomacy? But most importantly, would they turn out to be ok?

I remember looking at my brother as he worked the room with his easy charm, good natured humour and intelligent and witty conversation as I sat in the shadows hoping not to get noticed, knowing that I was failing miserably. How could I answer his question without wondering myself, how did I turn out? The honest answer is ... many of the Foreign Service children, or Diplobrats, are... well, weird. We can't help it; we have no honest roots or lifelong friends or even a house that we call a home. We're here one day and there the next and who knows what else will happen? The only friends we do make are other Diplobrats, and there is no guarantee that after this post is done we'll ever see them again... and that can go for the local friends we have.. or had, I should say.

I could and can answer the young diplomats question 2 ways: the first being yes... your kids will be just fine. What an incredible opportunity you are giving them, letting them experience different cultures without the shock and awe of families who never leave their small town or see the world, but with enough shock and awe that comes with seeing, and I mean REALLY seeing and experiencing another culture and another world. Not only this, but these children will learn diplomacy skills: how to deal with a variety of different people which in my opinion, is a skill you can't live without in the PC world. I mean, when you think about it that way, we're the luckiest kids in the world, and if they turn out to be like my brother, they will have benefited tremendously from this lifestyle.

But my other answer ... is I don't know. Your kids might not be fine. They might resent you for uprooting them every 3 years. They might hate where they are posted. They might not be happy where they are. They might not make friends (and yes, that does happen). They might be miserable. They might be able to stand something or someone for 3 years and then all of a sudden get this enormous urge to leave. They may turn out to be so maladjusted and awkward and maybe even scarred due to the life you're binding them too until they can actually fight back or have a say in where you go. If you think about it that way, we're the unluckiest kids in the world.

I know what you're asking. Where do I fit in to this? Did I benefit from this lifestyle? Maybe. Do I personify answer # 2? Not always. Am I maladjusted and awkward? You tell me.

You think you know? You have no idea. This is the diary of a Foreign Service brat.