I had a discussion recently, argument really, about why Maseru is a hardship post. I passionately argued this is not a hardship post. My associate factually pointed out that it is.
“There are two grocery stores in town,” I pointed out. “There is a mall with a movie theater.” I say we are safe, “We live in secure homes with electrical and water backups.” I argue that anything we are missing can be found over the South African border in Ladybrand or Bloemfontein.
The defense consists of solid points that only seasoned FSO’s think about. “There is no hospital here. The closest medical center is in Bloemfontein, 2 hours away.” “There is no police force that is visually present to serve and protect.” Deftly, he blunts my emotional argument with solid facts on health and safety.
He didn’t argue the goods and services. Those cause the emotional hardship, but guiltily make me feel like a spoiled American. But those are the ones I had focused on. I try to counter “We are surrounded by doctors here and medical clinics, such as Bayler and others.” He points out that my children are not HIV positive and are therefore not eligible for care. “But in an emergency, there are many people to turn to. Even without an emergency, many expats take advantage of these services.” “You can not count on that.” He states.
“But what about Ladybrand and Bloem? Are half hour and 2 hour drives to far for everything you need?” The party line is “Yes. You can not take into account another country when considering the hardship of the country you are assigned to.”
I gave up. Not conceding that he won, but he certainly out argued me. I am the world’s worst arguer and near to this point I tend to think my next retort will consist of crossing my arms over my chest and saying “fine!” A wonder I never win.
All week I have been thinking about this. I understand his points but am conflicted. What utopian city could “hardship” really be compared to? If you read the earliest posts on this blog you know that our car took bullets in DC, cars were broken into so often we didn’t lock the doors, police were out all hours of the night, and a victim of crime beat on our house door at 3 am. Even my Virginia apartment was broken into.
Should parts of DC receive danger pay? No, not at all. Name for me one place you have lived that was perfectly safe and stress-free. Life is not that way. There is always something. Giving birth in a hospital dedicated to women and infants does not guarantee your baby will live, even in the States.
We are coddled here. We expect it. If we had to live like the local citizens of these countries, Foreign Service Officers would not come. If we had to live like the other expats, we still won’t come. Our hardships must be acknowledged. We must be rewarded. I try to remind myself about the terrible internet; the lack of ambulances; the constant apathy; the irregularity of items, especially chicken, at the grocery store; the long border lines; the closest pediatrician in Bloem, but still feel guilty about the luxury in which we live when I compare myself to others here.
I tend to think this person is right more often than not and I respect his opinions, so why argue? Possibly, my lapse in judgment was due to the constant stresses. Maybe I really do need a trip back into a first world country to resume perspective. It is not hard to adapt to this environment, but the little frustrations are wearing.