The last thing I expected

In one of my last blogs I admitted in detail that the job hunt has not been very easy. I’ll also say that first and foremost it’s been no one’s fault but mine. I’ve been forced to really evaluate what considerations go into my choices and what my priorities really are.

I turned down Sudan because of a clash of personal ethos with very disgusting on-location politics, and I turned down Afghanistan because of a sudden and drastic upturn in militant-based violence and rapidly increasing security concerns.  Both decisions kept my job hunt going for a lot longer than I had ever wanted, and also forced me to re-evaluate what the foundation of my decision making process really was. Did I really want the things that I was chasing? Turning down both Sudan and Afghanistan would have clearly said “no”.

So after the decision to personally scupper both moves, I widened my job search enormously.  I’d previously only been searching for things that fit a mostly regular category that created what was my “dream job”: post-conflict, Middle Eastern and/or Islamic, with widely misunderstood locations or cultures trying desperately to establish a national standard for education.

From then on I opened up my process to destinations all over, applying to middle school English jobs in Taiwan, language schools in China and Saudi Arabia, an elementary school post in Gabon, and even a High School AP World History job in Ulan Baatar, Mongolia (and for the record if I got offered that job I would have 100% taken it).

I’d so far hesitated on making the move to widen my search because of the disparity in processing time and ‘hussle’ of different cultures looking for teachers; Middle Eastern jobs often like to take their time, and have a very relaxed  approach to appointments.  Most east Asian jobs, however, move quickly and get what they want.  I had hesitated in opening the search knowing that once I did I would tip the scale towards East Asia.

And so it happened that within three days, my four best leads were in China or Taiwan.  I took a day and evaluated the four offers I had received. One stood out above the rest. I took a half day to make sure I was interested enough in the opportunity, and then signed and sent the contract, only for the school to tell me their teacher from the prior year had re-signed his old contract that morning.

Back to the drawing board.  I took the three remaining contracts and applied the same process, coming to the new conclusion that I was going to be living and teaching in Quanzhou, China.  Contract signed, sent, and accepted.

I was happy, although only conditionally so, because it had been a weird enough job hunt to keep my guard up until the last possible second. I wasn’t going to be happy until I had passed the last possible hurdle, until my feet were on the ground in Quanzhou. But I was finally moving in the right direction, I had a signed contract in a position that I liked enough.

The next step was to collect all my necessary documents to apply for my Chinese Visa in Kuala Lumpur.  I was going to apply in Malaysia, enter on a tourist visa, and work on it temporarily while my school worked on my long-term work permit.  Questionably legal by China’s practices, but the best chance I had unless I went back to America.

I’d never looked in depth at the Chinese Visa process and was surprised at the the amount of documents that had to be prepared just to have a successful application.

Collecting all of my documents just to apply for the visa took a day in itself, having to email home and ask my mom (who I have all too often put in the position of being my domestic secretary) to send me documents I hadn’t seen since I’d filed a year or two ago.  After the methodical collection and organization of documents, some 30+ pages worth, I made my appointment for the next morning.

I could feel my caution finally start to subside, and my excitement raise as I entered the consulate building.

Everything I needed was now collected and my position in China was a matter of mere formality.  The office was set up with ant-like efficiency, everything clearly delineated for maximum effectiveness.  Hundreds of moving parts working as one. I took my number, sat, and waited- was only going to be a five minute wait or so. Beautiful photos of towering Buddhist pagodas in lush gardens and staggering landscapes from Sichuan, Yunnan, and Inner Mongolia lined the walls, whetting my appetite for exploration.  And then the bell rang.  Not my bell, but a long continuous one, like a school bell, like a fire drill bell. The bell didn’t stop. A woman’s voice came over the building’s main intercom.

“Good Morning.  Please proceed to all exits immediately. This is an emergency situation.”

I didn’t budge. I just sat and waited for my number to be called. There was no way that my luck had gotten this bad.  After a minute, security personnel entered the consulate office and started escorting everyone out to ensure that the evacuation was happening smoothly and completely.

I’m pretty sure that’s when I just started laughing.  I knew at that moment, with everyone getting evacuated from the building, that I wasn’t going to China. Having a bomb threat called on the high rise you’re sitting in mere minutes before applying for a visa is not a particularly good omen.

The evacuation was no smooth affair, people shoving and in some cases running out as if they were face-to-face with their own eminent doom.  Over the course of fifteen-twenty minutes, hundreds of people filed out, and the distant pitch of sirens rose as the national bomb squad trucks approached and ushered everyone to a fifty-meters  distance from the building that they deemed safe.  I grabbed a sandwich and a coffee, and sat at the top of the hill watching the whole event unfold.

IMG_6687[1] IMG_6689[1]

Thankfully, nothing happened.  Two hours disappeared from everyone’s day, but no real harm came of the situation. Once the all-clear was given, office workers filed back inside followed by the clients of various offices represented.  I was one of the last people to re-enter the building, not seeing the need to get stuck in the cattle herd of re-entry that would’ve saved me maybe five minutes in the visa office at the expense of thirty minutes of crowd suffocation.

Back in the consulate office, the ant-like efficiency that was so evident earlier in the morning had disappeared, overwhelmed by frenetic panic.  Hundreds of visa applications that were surely scheduled for the day had to now be crammed into less than four hours instead of six.

I got a new number, and sat down once more.  Once called, I could see how distressed and panicked my clerk was. He was not handling the shortened working window well.  He dismissed my application, stating that I didn’t have the proper documents.  Upon pressing him for more details I was merely dismissed myself in favor of the next customer. I understood as best as I could, as the situation was no one’s fault. I got a new number but had to get a long wait, my appointment time having expired in the first half hour of the bomb threat.

I never got a second chance.  They ran out of time for the day, and being a Friday, I would have had to wait until Monday. Even then, their website showed no available appointments until Wednesday.

With my epic China fail, I decided, once more, to change my job approach. Applying a new focus on patience and location.  I knew I wanted to work in the Middle East, and I knew in order to get the opportunities I wanted, I’d have to be patient, because most places in the region don’t work quickly.

Two nights later, around 3 in the morning, my phone buzzed with an email. The British International School in Dohuk, northern Iraq, had a sudden shock opening. Someone had pulled out a day before school began, and they were looking to interview and make an appointment as quickly as possible. My resume had piqued their interest and they expressed a desire to move forward with me if available.

So here I am now in Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, flying out to Erbil en route to Dohuk in five hours…. About to fly back to Iraq. The interview went very well, they are a well respected school using one of the most widely taught curriculums in the world, and I was given a plane ticket before I even signed a contract.

The strangest part of it all is that a return to Kurdistan, a return to Iraq, had been on top of my list for some time…  I had just simply dismissed it as being so unlikely to materialize.

As more time passed since my departure from the country in April, I grew increasingly disappointed in myself for the reasons behind my leaving.  I didn’t like that I left a job unfinished, and I have never thought of myself as a quitter.  After leaving in April, I left with that sour taste of quit in my mouth.  I wanted a return because I knew I had something to prove, not to anyone, but to myself.  I once got a 0.7 semester GPA in college (out of sheer apathy), only to retake all classes I received an ‘F’ in replacing each with an ‘A’. When I so distinctly perceive my own quit I have to find a way to right it, hence one of my motivating factors in a return.

And that’s only one part of it.  Going back to Kurdistan gives me the chance to further explore a country and culture that I had fallen in love with.  I can’t wait to sit in tea shops and talk with locals, buy a bike and explore the Zagros Mountains, reach out to friends I haven’t seen in half a year, and re-launch projects I had just begun with a NGO helping refugees and IDPs.

I’m excited that I’ll once more get the chance to share the beauty of a much-misunderstood culture and region of the world that still lives and dies in our consciousness by the narrow and mainstream information that most of us receive from our major sources.

Kurdistan is a beautiful place for many reasons. I can’t wait to remind myself and anyone interested just how to true that is.

3 thoughts on “The last thing I expected

  1. The whole world seems to be pretty chaotic right now, so your experience in the consulate doesn’t surprise me.
    Things seem to work out the way they’re meant to. Blessings to you in your newest adventure!

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