I don’t think that life runs in circles, but we kind of follow trials, maybe more like a bloodhound following scents. The scents can be stronger or weaker. Sometimes they are washed away completely, but more often it only seems that way. Naturally the course of your career is often determined by your core competencies and talents. You tend to circle around the places where you have expertise. That is why it is so important to start along a path with lots of options, since you may be travelling that way a long time.
The natural circle
Forestry was probably my biggest circle. I have always loved nature and studied forestry in college, but abandoned it as impractical. I believed that was the end of it, but I didn’t know myself as well as I thought. While my conscious mind was not paying attention, under the surface I was always paying attention to the opportunities and – in the Chicago term – when I saw my chances, I took them. I became a forest owner. People wondered not only why I wanted to do that, but also how I knew what to do. I just did. I had learned to identify forest types and assess forest land, not in the professional sense but enough to know what I was buying because that program had been running in background for thirty years.
Now I may well be bookending my career with Brazil. Brazil was my first post and Portuguese was the first language the FS taught me. That was a long time ago, a quarter century ago. Besides my sojourn in Iraq, I spent the rest of my career in Europe. But I wasn’t so completely out of it. In 2000, I went to the EU Summit in Lisbon. Their Portuguese is very different from the Brazilian variety and for a couple days I couldn’t say anything. But then it came back, mostly. A couple years ago, FSI offered an online Portuguese reading course. I had no reason to take it, but I did.
I went down to Sao Paulo and the State of Parana in May of this year. Brazil surprised me. I guess I should have known that it would change in twenty-five years, but it had changed a lot. The country of the future was finally catching up with its vast potential. So when they advertised for the PAO in Brazil, I applied for the job. Yesterday I got it.
Foreign language is hard and you tend to think you sound better than you do
It is well in the future. The job doesn’t start until summer of 2011. I will finish the job here in IIP next summer, so I will have to find something for a couple months before I start the area training and language again. I want to get my Portuguese as nearly perfect as I can and that takes effort and training. I was easily fluent in the language when I lived in Porto Alegre, but I know that at my best I sounded like the equivalent of Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes. I want to move up to the Louis Jordan or Ricardo Montalban level.
FSI has language proficiency levels. IMO – the 1 level is like those Japanese fighter pilots on old movies, You can say just enough to make a few exclamations. When you approach the 2 level, you can ask where directions to the bathroom or the train station, but you might not understand the answer well enough to find it. The 3 is Sargeant Shultz. People understand you, but it is often comical. You have to get at least 4 to approach Louis Jordan or Ricardo Montalban, but they are probably closer to 5.
Once more around the track
So it looks like I will be doing another lap around another circle. Brazil is a very good post. The PAO seemed like a real big deal when I was looking at it from the junior officer perspective. Now, maybe not so much, but it will be a good and rewarding work. It has a big budget and a lot to do. This time I will be able to see the country and appreciate it more. Last time we were so poor that we couldn’t afford to go anywhere unless the government sent us. We were paying off student loans, car loans and then the expenses of the kid. Mariza was born in Brazil. We should be on easy street this time. The verse from TS Eliot seems appropriate.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.