Something we heard ad nauseam during the infamous spouse training week for Det Commander spouses was “it’s post specific.” It’s infuriatingly true: this lifestyle varies drastically from region to region, even from country to country. Our life in Honduras is wildly different than our WHA neighbors in Costa Rica or Haiti.
Once you know where you’re going, you have a number of resources at your disposal: the Overseas Briefing Center for logistical stuff (like shipping your HHE, UAB, and car), the CLO at post for on-the-ground stuff (like employment information or school visits), and your social sponsor, who is arranged by the CLO and acts as your personal guide upon arrival. For MSGs, you’ll usually be able to get in touch with the Det Commander you’re replacing, as well. Ask any of these people and you shall (normally) receive.
The OBC will even send you “Personal Post Insights,” anonymous surveys about life at post, ranging from topics like housing, social life, family member employment and more. These insights remind me of sponsored reviews on any sort of retail website: they’re arranged and promoted by an insider, so you always question their authenticity. Are people holding back a bit?
But the internet, magical as it is, has its own answer to PPIs: Talesmag’s Real Post Reports. These are by far my favorite resource, but sadly it’s one that many Det Commander spouses probably don’t hear of until they’re already at post. I experience the same guilty pleasure reading some of these as I do when reading the Youtube comments section, which just might be the armpit of the internet. Talesmag is like Foreign Service Yelp, in that it’s a mixed bag of 5-star and 1-star reviews, leaving you somewhere in the middle trying to decipher it all.
Don’t get me wrong. If you’re not reading the Real Post Reports, you’re missing out on indispensable info on prices, availability of goods, internet speed, and places to visit. You’re also able to make some helpful assumptions about schools, morale, and the working environment. But you’re also missing out on some serious belly-laughs and chin-scratches for questions that are less straightforward.
To really demonstrate what I mean, here are a few gems from our current post in Tegucigalpa, which has an unusually high number of Real Post Reports. This place can be quite polarizing, so people come out of here with a lot to say.
Question: What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
- Answer 1: Cheap domestic help. The movie theatres are very cheap and good as well. Not much more than that.
- Answer 2: The weather is perfect. Better than Southern California. Very pleasant. – The people are friendly. Hondurans are very nice and much more culturally similar to Americans than the previous African or Indian posts we had. – You get the exotic parts of living abroad, like the food, jungle, beach… and the benefits of the USA, like same time zone, Costco, Chilis (etc), movie theaters, watching American football….
- Answer 3: None really.
- Answer 4: This has been one of my best tours ever! Close commutes to work/school/stores which is awesome. LOTS of tourism opportunities in country and in neighboring countries. Groceries are reasonable. Weather is almost great. Yes, you can save money unless you like to travel a lot. The U.S. Embassy has a good group of folks, and morale is good.
Question: What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)?
- Answer 1: Excellent.
- Answer 2: Not good. The locals burn a lot of the fields and forests, and the ash and smog gets trapped in the city.
- Answer 3: Moderate.
Question: Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
- Answer 1: Not a chance. The best view of Tegucigalpa will be as the plane lifts off the ground. WORST place I have ever lived.
- Answer 2: Yes. We like it alot and are happy.
- Answer 3: I didn’t have a choice in coming here; if I knew what I knew now I would be kicking and screaming along the way!
- Answer 4: YES. The new Ambassador has improved the morale at post.
Question: Don’t forget to bring your…
- Answer 1: Kindle, DVDs, and a hobby.
- Answer 2: Flip flops.
- Answer 3: Patience. Defensive driving skills
- Answer 4: Gun.*
*This was the singular answer (perhaps along with the entire category about the security situation) that put me on edge before coming here. I can’t help but chuckle looking back at it now…
The juxtaposition is comical at best, confusing at worst. For MSGs in particular, remember this: State Department folks are (usually) not Marine Corps folks. I don’t mean that in the “they’re pampered diplomats” sense. Quite the opposite: these people have served all over the world, likely in places much nicer but also much, much worse than wherever you’re coming from. They’ve roughed it through three-year stints in undesirable places, too.
What’s more, their spectrum of “good” and “bad” ranges from Croatia to the Congo, not from Kaneohe Bay to Twentynine Palms… shudder! Someone coming from New Delhi is going to love the air quality in Teguc, but someone coming from virtually anywhere in Europe… not so much. On the flip side, I have a friend who insists the suicidal driving here is preferable to driving in northern Virginia (the State Dept stomping grounds), so it’s all a matter of perspective.
So how “real” are these Post Reports? They demonstrate the most undeniable reality of Foreign Service life: experiences vary. Read away, but take what they say with a grain of salt until you can form your own opinions. Freshly ground sea salt, at that, because you’re a fancy diplo-spouse now.