Summer is the season of high visa demand. It's also the season of State Department officer turn-over. The two together do not make for a particularly good time. Between farewell parties and welcome lunches, staffing gaps and training periods, the pressure of a room full of sweating, overheated applicants feels just that much more intense.
At the end of this month, we'll be short one person in the NIV section; at the end of next month, we'll be short two people in the consular section as a whole. I'm not concerned about getting the interviewing done; we're a capable group, the incoming officer should catch on quickly, and applicant numbers are a bit down anyways. But there are no back-ups. I worry about people getting sick. More specifically, I worry about me getting sick. I've finally come to terms with things enough to want to push ahead with the MS medication, but have already been told it will make me feel as if I have the flu. I don't think it's true that any one person is indispensable, but I'd rather not ask the two other people on the line to put my theory to the test... At the end of last month, an unexpected shortage of hands helped me to achieve my all time high for most number of interviews in a day: 190. I don't want this to become the norm for anyone. But I also don't want to put off the meds any longer. I'm not entirely sure how this is all going to work out.
By a somewhat less than fortuitous coincidence, the staffing gap means that I'm supposed to be 'in charge' of the NIV unit until the new NIV chief arrives in January. I suspect this is going to require many more phone calls to the NIV chief in Tokyo (who I'm sure already cringes every time she sees my name on her caller ID...). This is also requiring I put in a lot of overtime: 11 hours just this past week. Working on the training schedule for the new incoming officer (set to arrive Monday, bless him), I found by about 8:30pm or so the words were running together on the computer screen. Earlier in the work day -- at the second of what will eventually be four goodbye parties -- Sara asked why I looked upset. I was trying very hard not to be upset, much less look it. Holding parties is important to her, and she'd been up late herself preparing for this one; I wanted to honor her efforts (and our departing colleagues) by attending. But the truth was that eating pizza and being asked to make small-talk when I had work to do work to do work to do was making me incredibly tense. Those are the times when I'm the most disappointed in myself: relationships ought to be more important than writing schedules, organizing meeting minutes, adjusting appointment numbers... Yet even knowing that, I can't take my focus off of those trivial things, and it always shows. It makes me feel less than human somehow. At least I know now that quitting the FS to become a professional poker player is not a good option. Maybe 'Enjoy parties' would be a nice 'Area of Improvement' on my next EER.
As things at work are not going to slacken, I try to think less about escaping the current situation than about what I do and don't want to come out of this situation. I don't want to play the martyr. Talking to a friend in Seoul (we're trying to arrange a post-to-post exchange), she mentioned that the summer rush was putting a crimp in their morale. It was a good reminder that -- at every post all over the world without exception -- no one is exempt from overtime, everyone is understaffed, all offices are going through turn-over... My situation isn't unique by any means. I don't want to whine about it; it's unproductive, and moreover it's unwarranted. But I'm surprised at how casually this sort of strain is accepted as the norm, and how little effort is put into trying to improve upon the flawed systems that produce it. My greatest hope is that at least some of what I'm doing will make the job less burdensome for the people who follow me. And maybe even less burdensome for the people around me now.
And I hope those same people won't mind that I'm skipping the final goodbye party to go biking along the river. Part of not being a martyr is knowing your limits.