It’s Bidding Season! In Foreign Service land, this is the time of year when a list comes out with all the places Mr. Dame in Spain, and myself by association, could be posted to next. Imagine seeing a list of cities, some of which you’ve never even heard, and knowing “One of these will be where I live for a non-significant percentage of my life.” It’s exciting, a little scary, and surreal.
I present to you: Seven capital cities, one of which we’ll hopefully be living in in 2016. If you’d like to play along, cast your vote for where you think we should move (poll at bottom of this blog post).
The South American democratic country of more than 30 million people is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chili and is chock-full of biodiversity: Pacific beaches, coastal desert, the Andes mountains, the Amazon Rainforest. Also in Peru: the 15th century Incan site of Machu Pichu. As for the city of Lima, where we’d live: It’s the third largest city in the Americas with 8.6 million people, making it bigger than New York City.
Why I’m excited about this post: What better way to continue this long process of learning Spanish than to live in another Spanish-speaking country? Particularly one that is known as the Gastronomy Capital of South America. I’ve always wanted to visit South America. Plus, it’s not too far from the United States, so visitors would be a-plenty.
Drawbacks: It’s just a one-year position, which is no time at all. Also, I’ve heard Lima is often covered in fog or clouds. And Wikipedia confirms: It’s the least-sunny city in Peru. And I do love the sunshine.
Laos is a communist, largely Buddhist, landlocked country of 6.8 million that shares borders with Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and China. It was a French colony for over 60 years (ending in 1953). Since the 1990s, the previously isolated country has opened up a bit, but it still remains one of the poorest countries in southeast Asia. The city we’d be in, Vientiane, is the capital and is home to 760,000 people.
Why I’m excited about this post: We visited Laos during our honeymoon a few years ago and were overcome by its peaceful charm, vibrant color, and delicious food. We’d love to explore more of Southeast Asia, and living in Laos puts us in a great position for that. This is an English language post, which means Mr. Dame doesn’t need to spend a year learning Laotian.
Drawbacks: All the normal drawbacks that come with living in a developing country would be present in Laos. And because it’s also just a one-year post, there’s not much time to get settled or make friends. Or properly paint every single room and obsessively decorate an apartment.
Ah, Belgium, home of fries, chocolate, waffles, tasty beer, and my favorite sprout. This federal monarchy is also home to 11 million people Dutch and French-speaking folk. We’d live in the capital city of Brussels, along with 1.8 million others, which is major center for international politics — the headquarters for both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are located here.
Why I’m Excited About this Post: It’s Europe, which means there is plenty of culture, great food, beautiful sites, and many other countries close by to which we could travel cheaply. Also, Brussels isn’t enormous, so it’s less overwhelming than say London or New York. However it is a super international city so I’d get around fine speaking English. Also: This is a three-year post, which is a nice solid chunk of time to get settled in a new city.
Drawbacks: Have you heard the phrase EuroWeenie? We don’t want to turn into those people who just love Europe so much they can’t ever leave. As the current U.S. ambassador to Yemen told Politico (before the U.S. Embassy in Yemen closed) “To spend your career in Stockholm—it doesn’t have that sense of purpose.” Substitute Stockholm for Belgium and there you go. Also, the weather in Brussels is often gray and rainy.
Oh, you’ve heard of jolly old England? Well, I’ll save you from the geographic facts and just say London is a world-class city with 13 million people. It’s got everything going for it: History, prestige, culture, style, great food.
Why I’m excited about this post: We have a decent number of friends who live in London, it’s easy to fly in to/out of, there is endless culture, the Indian food is top-notch, and I love gin cocktails. Oh, and I’d nail my English accent after completing this post. (And it’s already quite good.)
Drawbacks: The gloomy weather, the very high cost of living, and us feeling a little sheepish for doing two post European posts in a row.
This Arab kingdom in the Middle East borders Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Israel. While it’s nestled between some seriously unstable countries, Jordan itself is quite safe. It’s a middle-upper income country and it ranked first on democratic reforms out of 15 Arab counties on the Arab Democracy Index from 2010. It’s also home to the ancient city of Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Amman (population 4 million) is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cites in the world an a major tourist destination.
Why I’m Excited About this Post: If I had to pick a Middle Eastern country for our next post, Jordan is not a bad bet. It’s considered one of the most liberal and tourist-friendly countries in the Middle East. Although it’s a Muslim country, it’s not officially a dry country, so an alcoholic drink wouldn’t be too hard to come by. I failed to learn any Arabic (despite taking lessons) in Yemen, so this would be a good chance to for me to finally learn the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world.
Drawbacks: Well, it is located between two of the most unstable countries in the world, which is cause for concern. Also, many of the same societal drawbacks that apply for living in any conservative Muslim country: Women are not treated equally and should dress modestly (no bare legs or arms).
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea, located 1,500 miles north of Australia, is one of the most culturally diverse yet least-explored countries in the world. Over 7 million people live in Papua New Guinea, speaking some 848 languages. This is the country where some tribes use to practice cannibalism and others used sea shells as currency until it was outlawed in the 1930s. (And it’s where the Swiss Family Robinson was headed before the shipwreck.) We’d live in the capital of Port Moresby, which has a population of about 400,000.
Why I’m Excited About this Post: PNG itself, as well as the country’s proximity to Australia, open up a whole new, exciting area of exploration for us. PNG also has some of the best scuba diving in the world, so perhaps I’ll dust off the old certification card and become a master diver. This post certainly holds an excitement factor: It feels adventurous, wildly off the beaten bath, and part of me is like “Papua New Guinea? You only live once, why the heck not!”
Drawbacks: Mmm, okay, so the “why the heck not” might include that Port Moresby clocks in with the fifth highest murder rate out of all the cities in the entire world, with an average of 54 murders per 100,000 people annually. It also ranks as one of the worst places in the world for gender-based violence, including rape. The Economic Intelligence Unit ranked it as one of the world’s least liveable cities (138 our of 140 cities rated). Rather surprising for this island country, but apparently rampant gangs and corrupt cops make the capital city unsafe.
Banjul, The Gambia
Gambia (also called The Gambia) is the smallest country on mainland Africa; it’s slightly smaller than Jamaica and has a population of 1.8 million people. It’s almost entirely surrounded by Senegal, but has a small coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. English is the official language, and 90% of Gambians are Muslim. Gambia is poor country whose economy is mostly tied to peanut exports. It was once a major point on the slave trade route – three million people were taken from Gambia and enslaved. (The TV miniseries “Roots,” based on Alex Haley’s novel, was set in Gambia).
Why I’m Excited About this Post: Banjul has nice beaches and decent restaurants, from what I’ve heard. I’ve always wanted to visit Africa. Although, considering you could fit the United States, China, and all of Europe into Africa, us living in a tiny Western African country doesn’t mean we’d necessarily see much of the ginormous continent. The country is also stable, although there was a sort-of coup attempt in late 2013.
Drawbacks: It’s a very small place – Banjul has just 34,000 people. There’s likely not a ton of culture and living there could be a little boring. More seriously, Gambia has a bad human rights record, especially when it comes to free speech. Journalists and activists in Gambia have been tortured or made to disappear for speaking out against other human rights violations.