Yesterday was our embassy employees’ 4th of July party (the one where we actually get to enjoy ourselves instead of spending two and a half hours in 90 degree heat wearing suits and shaking hands with an endless stream of people), and I actually thought they did a really good job with it. We’ve only moved in to our new facilities within the past eight months, and most of the recreation-type areas are stil under construction, so social activities have largely been limited to weekly volleyball games (which, considering my complete lack of hand-eye coordination in anything involving moving objects, I avoid like the plague) and evenings centered around the local watering hole, which, although pleasant for an hour or so to chat with colleagues, usually start well before I get out of work. So yesterday’s events were a welcome change of pace, and included such highlights as: free barbecue (real sausages!!), volleyball games, music, an ice cream sundae bar, local vendors who for a change were allowed onto the compound, and the opening of……the embassy pool.

That’s right — we now have a pool. The permanent gym/rec center is still unfinished, but the outdoor pool was completed ahead of schedule, and is actually quite nice. The down side?

Imagine, if you will, a couple hundred people, primarily WASPy types, who have spent the vast majority of however long they’ve been here indoors. Nearly all of us work at least five and a half or six days a week, many of us work seven days a week. Because of that, we’re generally always attired in some form of semi-professional dress, at least long pants, almost never shorts.

Now, imagine a sea of sun-deprived flesh suddenly unleashed on unsuspecting local vendors (who wear long sleeves and long pants even when it’s over 100 degrees), wandering about the compound in various states of undress as if it were the beach, but since it’s on the compound it’s still RIGHT IN FRONT OF the places we live and work every single day. Then add to that the fact that the sun here is dazzling…no humidity, no clouds, just pure unmitigated brilliant light illuminating all that is to be seen. It boggles the mind, does it not? Men wandering around the food area in short swim trunks and nothing else, walking by some poor local person who wouldn’t wear jeans because they’re immodest and clingy, and in front of their professional colleagues who have to work with them the next day.

Yikes.

It actually reminded me of the reason why, in high school when we lived in Turkey, I pretty much stopped wearing shorts. Part of it was my (cliched, I know) phobia of displaying my body in any way, shape or form, since I was intensely uncomfortable with it at the time. But I really think that part of it was that after a year or so of not seeing people walk around in shorts, it feels odd to look up and see someone’s naked legs passing in front of you.

It’s not even that I’m generally uncomfortable with people in beach/pool attire, it’s just that it’s so incongruous when it’s occurring in the same courtyard where three days prior there was a vice president (not ours) and several high-level ministry officials mingling with Chiefs of Mission. It feels like that dream where you walk into your class or office naked without realizing it, whereas when we were in Mexico recently it just seemed like the logical thing to wear.

This is not to say that I’m never going to use the pool here. On the contrary, I’m hoping to get back into a work-out routine (three weeks off really throws everything out of whack, and I have yet to resume my exercise routine of three times a week that I was on before I left for our first R&R), and would like to incorporate the pool in to that. Swimming laps or running the pool are great exercise, and as long as I’m covered with SPF 9,000 sunscreen it would be nice to enjoy the outdoors a little bit. But I think for the time being I’d be more comfortable going at around 3 when I take a mid-day break from work instead of in the evenings or on the “weekend” (the days when I work 8 hours instead of 12 or more). I just don’t know if I’m ready to greet our ambassador or my boss wearing only a bathing suit. I don’t know if our relationship is ready for that yet.

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