Many years ago, before we even came back on the MSG program, I read a sarcastic blog post by Natasha from La Vie Overseas called Lean On. The post came in the wake of Cheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and the debate about whether or not women can have it all. Natasha joked that instead of leaning in (being present, ambitious, and unrelenting in the pursuit of career goals) she was going to lean on her spouse, letting him do all those things while she enjoyed some cheap massages in El Salvador. Of course, she wrote the post in jest and I’m impressed with how well she’s managed to translate this lifestyle into a rewarding career trajectory for herself.
All joking aside, though, spouses should prepare to lean on to some extent in this lifestyle, willingly or begrudgingly. This mental preparation is key especially for MSG spouses, most of whom are fiercely independent by nature. I’ve found this to be the most difficult part of the program, but it’s a necessary evil.
You’ll certainly have to lean on your spouse. Communication with your spouse is about to be more important than ever, because he or she is the one with access. Sometimes you will be treated as an extension of your spouse, as all invitations and reminders will reach you via him or her (if they remember to to tell you, of course). Got mail? Your spouse will get the email. Need cash? Your spouse might be the only one with banking privileges. Examples like that are superficial and petty, I know, but they are many and they add up over time. In a life that consists mainly of following your spouse to who-knows-where time after time, sometimes you just want to handle your own business. And other times, the ways you lean on your spouse aren’t so trivial: if EFM jobs are hard to come by at post, you may end up depending financially in addition to logistically. This is a tough pill to swallow for spouses who don’t enjoy dependopotomus life.
You may need to lean on native speakers and friends with language training. MSGs don’t get language training before arriving at post. At some posts, English will get you by, but at others you’ll be completely dependent on those with language skills until you develop some of your own. Even a year into learning Spanish, there were many things I still couldn’t manage to do on my own. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and ask the Marine driver to call the cable company for you or ask a bilingual friend to accompany you on a trip to the mechanic.
You’ll lean on the community. When it comes to adjusting to post, getting recommendations for schools or mechanics and beyond, the community is your lifeline. What is more, you never know when you might need a favor in this crazy life. When the garage ceiling falls onto the roof of your car overnight and your spouse isn’t in country to file a work request, you just might have to lean on Post One to do it for you, since you can’t access the system yourself. (All very hypothetical, of course…)
You’ll also lean a lot on the kindness of strangers. This is always humbling, but also goes a long way in restoring your faith in humanity while living in challenging places. I can’t count the times a stranger has jumped in to translate something, show me where something is, or teach me how something works. While trying to cross into Nicaragua, a Spanish-speaking border agent told us repeatedly that we needed someone to inspect and sign off on our car before we could cross. Seeing that we barely understood what was going on, a stranger jumped out of line to show us where to find the car inspector and waited to make sure we got back in line without having to wait again. Without these small acts of kindness, life abroad would be infinitely more difficult.
These are just a few personal examples, I’m sure they differ in scope and number from post to post. Some posts are far more challenging than others when it comes to acclimating and navigating daily life. Don’t let it become an excuse: lean on yourself more than anyone. You’re capable of way more than you think. But do come onto MSG Duty knowing that, even more than in fleet life, some things will be out of your control.
Enjoy and appreciate the generosity that comes your way; you will have to the chance to repay it. Take comfort in the fact that we all become the veteran at some point, the one with the adequate language skills, the one who knows where to find just about anything in town, the one who can give rides or provide a meal. It’s the only way to find some kind of balance: to lean and be leaned upon in return.