One of the weird things about going to post is that everything happens in crazy little bursts of activity, followed by periods where I'm making no progress and feel guilty about it. Example: After Flag Day, I was ready to start knocking out all those things I'd have to do in order to leave for post -- book my travel, get my diplomatic passport (for the first time) and tourist passport (renewal)....but I couldn't do any of these things until a cable came saying I'd been officially assigned to the post. Now, in the paper we get after A-100 conveniently titled "Next steps after A-100", they have a timeline for when these things should be done. That cable, for instance, should be in your hands several months before you go to post. Needless to say, that was not a possibility for me, so the cable's proposed timeline was utterly useless to me.
Most recently, I had been waiting on post to tell me when I'd be arriving, but that's now out of the way. Since then I've gotten my passports renewed, got several rounds of shots and immunizations, met with my desk officer, signed up for distance learning courses, submitted my itinerary, scheduled my pack-out and about a million other things. It feels great to be making some sort of progress towards getting to post. On the one hand, it can be incredibly stressful when you know that in a couple weeks you need to be in Ethiopia, and nothing seems to be happening. On the other hand, State is pretty good about ensuring that you will actually get your visas and passports and what-not, even if that means a one-day turnaround. (I'm sure someone with more experience can offer examples of where they've failed, but this is the general impression that I've gotten so far).
The worst part of this process though is that my beloved Mercedes can't come with me. I've had this car since 2006 and it has been an utter joy to drive. Unfortunately, a rear wheel drive sedan simply won't work in Ethiopia, and parts are hard to find. So, I had to trade it in and buy an SUV. I'm now the proud owner of a 2004 Range Rover HSE, and it is awesome. It handles like a car, it's very agile, and corners surprisingly smoothly. The interior is quite nice and it has plenty of room to store just about anything I can throw at it. Unfortunately, I had to go out of town the next day, so I've literally only drove it home from the dealership and that's it. But I'll have some pictures later. Land Rover and Toyota parts are quite common in Ethiopia in particular, and Africa in general, so it shouldn't be too hard to maintain. 2004 is also one of the last years that the Range Rover used the 4.4L V8 BMW-made engine. Rover group was sold to Ford in 2000, but they didn't switch engine production over to Jaguar (also Ford) until 2006, so the 2000-2005 Range Rovers still have the BMW engines, which are apparently more reliable. I was expecting it to be sluggish compared to my Mercedes, which had a 3.2L 221hp turbocharged V6 engine and is quite zippy, but the V8 on the Range Rover pushes around 290 hp and has quite a bit of kick even at higher speeds on the Beltway. So I'm pretty excited about it.
Finally, I get to suffer the indignity of likely having a black eye in my driver's license photo when I renew it this week. Why will I have a black eye? Because I walked into a sliding glass door tonight at full speed, almost knocking it off its hinges -- if it wasn't tempered glass, it would have certainly shattered. I'm amazed that I didn't break my nose, but almost instantly a huge knot swelled up just over my eyebrow, and I can feel my right eye swelling as well. I've been icing it, and it's been fairly pain free, but knowing my luck I'll have a huge shiner. Great. Oh well, it's better than my current photo, which was taken when I was 15. Now I know how birds feel when they crash into windows at speed.