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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer Vacation

It's that time of year again, the highlight of everyone's summer combined with the worst part of everyone's year - time for the annual trek back to the motherland known as R&R.  The children and I finished the last day of school this past week, we finally got tickets, and I've started going over my packing lists.

This year we've added an extra level of difficulty.  Due to Brandon's leave issues, I decided to take the bold/suicidal/brave/foolish choice and travel with all six of the children alone so we could have an extra week at my parents' house.  I had various reasons, the good one being doctor appointments for everyone, the okay one being a grandparent rafting trip for the older kids, and the selfish one being my desire to have extra time to spend with friends.

This year is the Sherwood reunion and we (meaning me) were put in charge of planning the whole thing.  And for those of you counting, that means planning a week long family reunion for nineteen adults and twenty-five children.  From halfway across the world.  We got to choose the location, so I chose the beach.  My family goes to the beach every summer, so to make things easier for us I just rented the same house for two weeks in a row.  I was in transports of joy when I realized that I could go in and out of the exact same airport.  No twenty-hour drives or 5:30 AM plane rides, just three and a half weeks in one state.  It's almost mythical.

Also, I decided to come back earlier than Brandon because I'm pretty sure I don't want six children de-toxing from twenty-eight hours of traveling while at a family reunion.  It's bad enough doing it in the privacy of my parents' large house where everyone only shares a bedroom with one or two siblings, but crammed into an overstuffed room with four or five other cousins?  I'm just going to pass on that.  Also I don't want to be shopping for breakfast and lunch food for forty-four people, feeding forty-four people (because we're cooking the first night), telling forty-four people forty-four times (let's be honest, it will probably be more than that) where their rooms are again, and trying to get my own children to sleep in the middle of all that while getting over crazy jet-lag myself.  Pass on that, too.  Just sayin'.

This means that on Thursday morning at five AM, I will board the first of four flights that will eventually land us in North Carolina by way of Istanbul, London, and DC.  We have assigned seats on the first flight and last flight but not the two middle flights.  Also the flight from Istanbul to London is late by an average of thirty minutes (that's average) and we have a two-hour layover.  It ought to make for some interesting stories when we've all recovered from the trauma in a few years.

The children are, of course, ecstatic.  Kathleen is looking forward to seeing her cousins and going whitewater rafting.  Sophia is the same.  Edwin is looking forward to flying on airplanes and visiting Grandpa's frogs.  Joseph is looking forward to eating as many snacks and watching as many movies as he wants for twenty-eight hours straight.  Eleanor is looking forward to seeing her grandparents.  William will probably be scarred for life.

Beach week was always the highlight of my childhood summer and so it's no surprise that the same is true for my own children, especially when you add in the excitement (why they find it so exciting is completely beyond me) of international travel and the magic of returning to a country that has things like sidewalks, grass, parks, and Krispy Kreme.

And, if you subtract the pain (oh, the pain.  Let's not dwell on it.  It turns out that the pain of traveling is kind of like childbirth.  Each time it happens you remember ever more clearly exactly what you're getting yourself into) of the opening and ending, it's the highlight of my summer too.  I can't wait to see my cousins and siblings and friends and Krispy Kreme.  I can't wait to stay up way, way (way) too late catching up with some of my favorite people in the world and playing all day on the beach.  I can't wait to go to absolute dissipation sleeping in, not exercising (once or twice a long time ago I exercised on R&R.  Ha), eating garbage cereal for breakfast every morning, reading books, eating dessert every night, and partying until I'm so exhausted that coming home to my regimented life actually sounds like a good idea.

Packing starts tomorrow.  T-minus three days until vacation party time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Living in Dushanbe - Summer

It is summer here in Dushanbe and we are deep into it.  It has been hot so long that the sensation of being cold or wearing pants or shoes or socks or jackets is a vague memory that resides in the same part of reality as the tooth fairy.  The high here a few days ago was 107 degrees.  One hundred and seven degrees is so hot that it is ten degrees hotter than ninety-seven degrees and twenty degrees hotter than eighty-seven degrees.  It's so hot that a few of my plants outside have to be watered twice a day or they will be dead by morning.  It's hot enough that the waterslide deck burned Sophia's feet pink the last time we went to the water park.  It's just hot.

There are some good things about summer in Dushanbe.  Summer is the time when there is all the produce in the world for cheap cheap cheap.  Right now you can go to the bazaar and get watermelons, yellow melons, peaches, nectarines, blackberries, apricots, cherries, apples, plums, raspberries, strawberries, and deliciously perfect tomatoes, in addition to all of the rest of the vegetables.  We spend all summer here in a fruit coma, packing in all of the fruit to last us through the winter.  Occasionally the children will ask if they can bring fruit outside while they are playing and I'll find two or three apricots rattling around in the bottom of a bowl that held two kilos that morning.  One of Eleanor's favorite things to do is sit and eat raspberries with a spoon, putting away at least a pound of them in one sitting.  I've told the children that one day when they grow up and live in America they will go to the grocery store and about die to see how much raspberries cost there and realize what they had while living in Dushanbe.

Normally the summer is also a great time for swimming.  The embassy has a pool and we have spent a lot of time there.  But it hasn't been working since the first day of summer (ironic, I know) and we've had to find alternatives.

Most days I send the children to play in the yard.  It's a scientific fact that children who spend all day in the house fight more than children who have been kicked out for a couple of hours.  At least it's a fact in our house.  We have a sprinkler (thanks, Dad!) and so the children will put on their swimsuits so that they can try and spray each other with it.  Sometimes they just use the hose.  And until I banned the practice for the sake of the umbrellas, they used umbrellas to keep the very cold hose water off themselves.  This option isn't the children's favorite way to deal with the heat, but I don't care.

There is also a local waterpark which actually isn't that bad.  It is also very popular and getting there close to opening time, especially on women and children day (no men allowed, including lifeguards), is a good idea.  A few weeks ago I went with a friend to swim in the afternoon and we showed up only to discover that the place was so full that they were only letting people in as patrons left.  As it was going to be a long time before ten left, we gave up and went back to the sprinkler.  The children were only pacified after we promised cookies and root beer.

Thankfully we're leaving for three and a half weeks to go back to America where it isn't quite so hot (and this is North Carolina!) and there are things like central AC.  In my mind, summer is over after we come back from R&R because that's when school starts.  But evidently Tajikistan didn't read my mind because summer is definitely not over in August - or September.  I always think of September as the month of disappointed expectations.  I spend the whole month waiting for the first breath of cool air, the promise of reasonable temperatures that mean we can start going outside again in something other than swimsuits.  But it never ever comes until October.  And then finally, summer is over.

I still like summer, even after spending three of them in Dushanbe.  I like wearing flip-flops and shorts and swimming and eating good produce.  I'd still rather be here than in Moscow.  But I will say that one day (and I'm not sure when that will be - I'm looking at you, Tashkent) when I live in a place where 100+ temperatures are an anomaly instead of a regularity, it will be a little nicer.  I'm not planning any moves to Canada, but I think I'm also going to stay away from Arizona too.  Maybe somewhere nicely in the middle.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fourth of July

This past week we celebrated the Fourth of July.  Celebrating the Fourth overseas is fairly analogous to celebrating Christmas in a Muslim country.  Instead of being part of a nation-wide party, it's more of a private affair that happens on a random day of the week.  I actually mind this less for Christmas than I do for the Fourth.  For us, Christmas is a family holiday anyway while Fourth is something you celebrate with your community.

And we did have the opportunity to celebrate with the community the Saturday before, but we didn't.  Brandon had spent seven hours at a conference that Saturday and he just wasn't up to spending a few more hours away from home out in the heat while shepherding all six (really five) children around to get their food, play the games, etc.  Add to that a five-month old baby and it equals thanks-but-no-thanks.  Instead we watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire while eating amazingly delicious Chinese food.  Seriously.  If there's one thing you can get here, it's really tasty, really cheap ($18.32 to feed the whole family) Chinese food.

The actual Fourth itself was on a Tuesday and Brandon had work off.  Since it was a holiday, we had to follow the Sherwood Family Holiday Rule (no work and all play).  Some friends invited us to go to Delphin, a local waterpark, so we spent the morning riding waterslides and swimming in the pool.  Delphin is actually one of the best-run institutions I've seen in Dushanbe and the kids love going and riding all of the big waterslides.  The three oldest have perfected the art of arguing (I'm not sure how I feel about that) and badger the lifeguards into allowing them to ride all the slides even if some of them technically aren't old enough to ride.  All can swim, so that's good enough for me.

While Brandon and I were lounging in the sun by the pool (yes, it's a hard life sometimes), we both developed an intense desire for french fries and then hamburgers and finally chocolate malts.  One of the best things about being adults is that when those cravings strike, there's nothing but responsibility to stop you from indulging in all of them at once.  Luckily, we didn't let responsibility stop us this time.  After all, it's a holiday, right?  And 'merica! And deep-fried potatoes! And charcoal-cooked meat! And ice cream!  After all, we would be neglectful parents if we didn't teach our children about their heritage.

This being Tajikistan, we had to make almost everything from scratch.  Luckily, the local grocery store had hamburger buns so that part was taken care of.  Also we live around the corner from an ice cream factory so we didn't have to make the ice cream either.  Okay, so we had to make the hamburgers and french fries from scratch.

But a few hours later we had our feast assembled and settled down to watch Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert in Drums Along the Mohawk.  As we watched the couple battle natives while various farms burned down, we all enjoyed our feast and the warm glow of appreciation for those who gave birth to the nation that we're proud to be a part of.

Patriotism is becoming somewhat unfashionable these days, so I guess I'll just have to be unfashionable and say that I love America, and I love it more than any other country in the world.  Which I should, seeing as I am an American.  God Bless America!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Year Five Wrap-Up

We are almost done with the school year, although 'done' is somewhat of a relative term.  Some children have finished some subjects (Sophia has finished language arts and history but not science), some have finished none (Kathleen) and some have finished all (Edwin).  But everyone has two weeks left and then we're off for a month before starting the whole rodeo again in the fall.

This year has been somewhat of a difficult one.  I added another child, Edwin, to the mix and started Kathleen on the next stage, the logic stage, of her schooling.  It took quite a while to figure out how to do all of the new curriculum with Kathleen, how to organize it, and how to grade it.  Edwin had a difficult time starting out because he wasn't fully literate.  He could read, but only slowly, and it took awhile for comprehension to kick in (sometimes it's still not all there for math problems).  Then, right as things started getting into a good rhythm, we picked up and left for three months, having a baby for fun in the middle of things.

Homeschooling is always a balance between what the children need and what you are capable of giving them.  When I started homeschooling I wanted to do all of the everything, and be the best homeschooling mother ever who only had brilliant children who knew all the things in the whole wide world.  I think that's pretty standard for homeschooling parents.

Now I've become someone who wants to make sure her children are perfectly adequately schooled.  Extra projects?  Maybe if they want to do them in their free time, but I'd rather take a nap.  Extracurriculars?  Russian counts for that, right?  And swimming occasionally at the embassy pool (when it's not broken) totally counts for PE.

I always make sure that they get the basics - math, language arts, science, and history are all covered - but it turns out that I just don't have enough time to get too crazy about the other stuff.  The girls do study Latin and Russian, but not in any kind of serious way, and that's just fine for me.  I had wonderful plans for starting Kathleen in some serious drawing study, but somehow those never quite panned out.  It may have something to do with the five other children I have.  Yes, I do feel mom guilt about not doing all of those things, but no, I don't let it interrupt my nap time.  We all have the right to a little sanity.

I'm happy to be through with this year and am looking to next year, which is an off year.  I have managed to have all my children (except William, who spoiled the pattern) two grade levels apart, so right when one is starting first grade (kindergarten has never been real school), the one just older than them is starting third grade.  Third grade is when they do almost all schooling independently and mostly I am involved in checking and correcting work.  So that means that the off year is when the youngest is in second grade, which is pretty much exactly like first grade except they can already read and work some things independently.  It's the payoff for surviving first grade again.  Seriously, I have all of those poems memorized down cold along with history up to the end of the middle ages, all the prepositions, and counting in whatever pattern you like.  I'll probably be able to recite all of the lessons from memory by the time William gets to first grade.  He'll be so impressed.  But probably not.

But for now, I (and all of the children) am counting down the weeks until break time.  Because it turns out that when you're the teacher you're even happier than children are about summer break.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

Friday morning I got a phone call from Brandon.  "Bad news," he started the conversation out cheerfully, "I just got an email tell me that my language waiver got denied."

Way back in November of last year, Brandon got his assignment to Tashkent.  Since we were out-year bidding, this meant that Brandon had to know Russian already to get the job.  The State Department scores language ability on a five point scale, assessing both speaking and reading skills.  For most languages, the department requires a 3/3 proficiency.  Brandon retested here at post and got a 2+/2+, which is not quite a 3, but pretty darn close.  When we were bidding, Brandon let Tashkent know that he didn't have the 3/3 and they, after hearing that he's been using Russian at the last two posts, decided that a 2+/2+ was good enough for them and they extended a job offer to Brandon.

As part of completing all the formalities required to get paneled, or formally assigned, Brandon had to fill out an application for language waiver.  This stated that he understood that there would be financial penalties and other bad things if he didn't have the required score, but he signed it anyway.  The plan was always to get his score up before going to Tashkent because he gets paid extra money to have his Russian at a 3/3.  And I like money.

We assumed everything was just fine - after all Tashkent was fine with his score and the regional bureau were fine with his score - until Friday.  Then I guess somebody else (I honestly have no idea who decided to deny the waiver.  There are levels of bureaucracy I have no desire to understand) decided that it wasn't fine and he'd have to get his score up - or else (I'm not sure what 'or else' means either).

After some time on the phone and an appeal for advice on Facebook (sometimes it's very useful), Brandon and I came up with plans A,B,C, and D.  Plan A involves taking an online course offered by State's language institute and retesting while in Dushanbe, but the rest of the plans involve spending more time in DC getting the required training.  The plans have a variety of inconvenience - one has us leaving early and throwing our school situation into havoc, leaving our current post in the lurch, and losing $13,500; one has us showing up to post six months late and once again throwing the school schedule to the dogs, while squeezing into tiny housing - and none are that great, mostly because we had expressly tried to avoid going back to DC.

Three or four years ago would have seen me breathing into my favorite paper bag (just retired after pouch service was reestablished).  I am a Planner and any time the plan goes wrong is a cause for great anguish.  I invest a lot of time and emotional energy into making sure everything works out just right and I am subjected to a minimum of disruption while saving and/or making the most possible money.

And on Friday I gave that paper bag a long, hard look.  After all, my carefully planned plans with the perfectly executed timing were just making some serious noise that presaged everything falling apart.  I've been looking forward to having a seamless post-to-post transition for literally years.  And let's not even talk about the possibility that Brandon would actually lose his handshake and have to start the bidding process all over again.  Everything was all bad.

But, after considering the freak out for a bit, I decided to skip it.  It was just too much trouble.  After all, what I felt about the situation wouldn't actually change anything, and I had other things to think about.  I even found myself, while discussing that large sum of money that we may be kissing goodbye, telling Brandon that it was just money after all.  And I really meant it.

I think that I have been completely broken down by this lifestyle.  It has taken me, the type-A perfectionist planner who works out airline seating charts months before the plane takes off, and made me into someone who just doesn't care any more.  Sure, I'm happy to get my plane tickets bought six months in advance.  That's nice.  But if I still don't have those tickets 2 1/2 weeks before we leave (which I don't), it's really not that big of a deal.  If we aren't seated together, we will be.  And if we don't get seated together, we'll still arrive at the same destination.  After all, it's just a day(ish) of traveling, right?  Not worth getting worked up about.

Sometimes I'm proud of my flexibility.  I can take a situation that would have sent me into panic spirals and just laugh at it now.  That's good.  It saves me (and Brandon) a lot of emotional turbulence.

But sometimes I wonder if I'm pretending that my uncomplaining (mostly) acceptance is resiliency when really it's just... giving up.  That's not good, right?  I don't think Uncle Winston would be very proud of me giving up.

But either way, it still doesn't change our present situation.  Hopefully Brandon will get things worked out and we can stick to our original schedule.  Or we won't.  And then we'll just make a new schedule.  Because what else can you do?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Starting Early

We have a lot of stuff.  I'm not quite sure how we got all of the stuff, but I imagine my Target and Amazon order histories would give a reasonably accurate picture of how all of this stuff ended up in my house.  Regardless of how it got here, however, it is a lot of stuff.  I suppose that's what happens when you couple eight people with homeschooling, a reasonable amount of disposable income, and being in a place where online shopping is a viable form of self-therapy.  There's no bad day that can't be made a little better by some retail therapy that brings a happy box of America to you.  Don't judge until you've been here.

Almost all of the time I like this stuff.  I love it when I sit down in my living room and it looks so pretty, I enjoy it when I'm cooking dinner and I have all the right tools, I appreciate it when I feed thirty-five people and everyone has real plates, silverware, and cloth napkins, I am grateful for it when the children spend hours playing with their toys instead of bothering me, and I like it when I can have a pretty dress to wear to a party.  All of these things I have accumulated help me out in some way or another.

But there are two times when I do not like everything I have accumulated: 1. When I have to have it packed up and weighed, and 2. When Brandon reminds me that this will happen.

When we first joined State, we packed out with 2,500 pounds of household goods.  We had two children and not much disposable income.  After Baku, we had more income and more children (working on five) and more than double the weight.  If the trend line continues, either multiplicatively or additively, we are going to be in trouble.  This is something I get reminded of at least once a week.

And so, I have started getting down to work.  Usually I like to do things in the bare minimum amount of allowable time.  If the plane leaves at 9 am, I like to stroll up to the gate at 8:40.  Then I have time to get other stuff done.  Also true with packing.  When Brandon starts talking about suitcases two weeks before leaving, I look at him like he's insane.  Why pack everything when you're just going to take it out and use it all again before you leave?  I don't like duplicating efforts.  It's not very efficient.

Usually Brandon and I spend a week or so of agony-inducing sorting the month before we pack out.  If you've never considered sorting agony-inducing, you've never sorted enough things.  According to the LA Times, the average American has about 300,000 household items in their homes.  Now imagine looking at every single one of those items (yes, every single one.  Even the crayons.  Because it makes no sense to move little bitty crayon stumps.  I have sorted our crayons multiple times) and deciding whether to toss or keep that item.  Times 300,000.

The first several hundred aren't too bad.  It's kind of fun, when you've got someone to do it with.  Brandon and I will closet ourselves in some room and the children will quickly grow bored with us and wander off to their toys (approximately 10,000 of the total number of items).  Then Brandon and I can spend hours talking and sorting.  It's very companionable.  But by about the third hour, you start getting tired.  The talk becomes less cerebral and more commentary on what is being sorted.  By the sixth hour you're just grunting, having used up all the words, and the children have started eating each other.  By the ninth, you never want to make another decision again in your entire life.  Then you eventually give up, chase the children into bed (or pick up the ones that have fallen asleep where they played), and crawl into bed yourselves.  Then you wake up and do it again.

And so this time, I've decided to wise up and start early.  Brandon and I have a long-standing disagreement about how much stuff we have.  He thinks that we are at least a thousand pounds overweight (which adds up when you pay overweight fees by the pound) and I think we still have about five hundred pounds left in our allowance.  Last time we thought we were overweight, sold off a lot of our consumables, and then ended up with a thousand extra pounds in our shipment.  Then we just had to buy everything all over again before we came to Dushanbe.

One of us (I'm not sure who) came up with the brilliant idea of making a spreadsheet of everything we own and then weighing it.  Both of us like the idea of definitively proving the other person wrong and then keeping/purging (depending on the results) what is necessary to be kept/purged.

A few Saturdays ago, the house was struck down with sickness (it is summer and that means norovirus season).  Brandon had to take Sophia in to the embassy for IV fluids and so I decided, after being irritated about spending my Saturday at home, that I might as well do something useful with my time.  Because I'm responsible occasionally.  Four or five hours later my nightstand was cleaned out, the top of my dresser was cleaned off, my wardrobe was organized, and I had cleaned out and weighed one half of our upstairs storage room.  My spreadsheet had the weights of most of our household linens recorded (queen sheets sets, 3, 3.5 kilos) and there was a pile of things for my housekeeper to distribute.

The girls have Friday chores that I assign each week based on what I need done, so last week I started them weighing the items in my living room.  They each weighed forty or fifty items, and a hundred items and a hundred kilos were added to my list, named The List to Rule Them All.  I figure if everyone does that for nine or ten months more, we should have everything cleared out and weighed. Then Brandon and I don't lose all will to live in another long, horrible week of sorting.

But we'll have to see.  Sometimes I think I'm clever and it works out really well and I make sure that everyone knows how clever I am.  Sometime I think I'm clever and it works out horribly.  Like that time we took a rest stop in Frankfurt.  But you never know which idea is a good clever idea or a bad clever idea until you try them both out.  I'll let you know which kind this is next year when we pack out.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Party Saturday

According to the calendar, summer started this past week.  According to Tajikistan, summer started last month.  And so by now, a month into summer, it is hot.  We have hit the upper-nineties, low hundreds weather that characterizes Dushanbe's long, hot summers.  I water my outside plants every single morning so they don't die by evening, the air conditioner never stops running, and I don't go barefoot in my courtyard past ten in the morning.

Summer also means the end of adventuring.  My family is less than enthusiastic about hiking at best, and when you throw in ninety-degree weather, hiking is just out of the question.  So this means that we spend our summer Saturdays at the pool.  I've gotten lazy, so this suits me just fine.  There's nothing that makes you feel rich like spending hours under a sunny blue sky enjoying a nice cool pool.  Work?  That's for other days of the week.  I'm going to go for another swim.

That worked really well for Saturdays right until the pool got closed.  The embassy spent a week switching the pool from chlorine to salt water and somebody managed to hook up the pump incorrectly and kill it.  With the sketchy mail situation, this means an undetermined time before the pool is operable again.  Everyone is very sad.

So this past Saturday, we went for another adventure.  A good friend is leaving soon and wanted to finish off her time in Dushanbe with some fun, so she invited us to come with her family (I know, I know, I was shocked too that anyone would voluntarily spend their Saturday with all six of our children) to a little 'resort' about an hour out of town.

Tajikistan has lots of these little resorts, or 'rest areas,' scattered throughout the countryside.  The canyon north of Dushanbe, Varzob canyon, is littered with them.  Usually they have a pool, tapchans, a restaurant, and occasionally a hotel.  They look very inviting when you drive past them.  I always construct an ideal scenario where we spend all day swimming, lounging, and enjoying the good life every time we pass them.

But every time I bring this up with Brandon, he comes back at me with reality.  "There will be bunches of locals staring at you, the food will give us diarrhea, and the facilities will be filthy.  No.  Stop asking."

My friend had been to this particular resort earlier this summer, and so was able to vouch for it.  After a minimal amount of badgering, Brandon agreed to come, and so Saturday morning we packed a pool bag and headed south.

Everyone, especially Brandon, was pleasantly surprised by how nice the resort was, with nicely kept grounds, a decent pool, and even curtained tapchans to put William in while he took a nap.  We had a very nice day swimming, eating, lounging, talking, and watching the children play.  It was just like all of the daydreams I've been having for the past two and a half years.  By the time we left around five, Brandon (Brandon!) was making plans for our return visit.

We made it home around six, and having just spent the day relaxing, none of us were in the mood to make everyone do their Saturday chores.  So we didn't.  And then we weren't in the mood to make dinner.  So instead we watched the very last Harry Potter movie while having popcorn and ice cream for dinner.

Most of the time I like to make sure my children are learning to be responsible members of society by contributing to the running of the household, learning the reality that very rarely is life all play and no work.  But every now and then it's fun to just wallow in the decadence and throw responsibility to the winds.  And Saturday was one of those days.  It was fantastic.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Which I Solve a Problem Entirely on My Own

Last week we ran out of water.  It was, as always, on laundry day.  We have four 500 liter water tanks in our utility space/room/closet/area and so theoretically we shouldn't run out of water.  Dushanbe usually has a pretty decent water supply (until they turn it off to work on pipes and then tell everyone on Tajik television but nobody bothers to tell us) that doesn't go out for days at a time and so we should be fine.  But it turns out that a household of eight people and all their showers, hand washing, toilet flushing, laundry washing, dish washing, and milk pasteurizing takes a lot of water.

I never know that we have run out of water until I turn on a faucet and nothing comes out.  It would be nice if we had some sort of low-water alarm or I even bothered to check the tanks on a frequent basis so I could know that we were getting low and institute water-saving measures.  But we don't and I don't so this means that I don't know we're out of water until it's... out.

The first few (ten or fifteen) times this happened, I would go and check the tanks and realize that it wasn't entirely out, just coming in at a very slow dribble that would never fill up all four of those tanks in any kind of speed that would let me finish washing my laundry before next week.  I just figured that the local water pressure had gotten low and waited around until it filled back up.

After this happened a few times, I got savvy, ordered another garden hose, and just stretched all three of my hoses (real hoses, with threads and everything.  I think I'm the only person in the entire country with a threaded garden hose, and only because I jury-rigged my Tajik hose so that I could put a real hose on it) through the yard, up the front stairs, through the front door, across my living room, through my storage/coat room, and into the mysterious concrete space where all four of my water tanks hide.  Then I just filled the tanks up from our yard water supply that was working just fine.  And then I was okay until the water got low again on laundry day.

Then the water meter on the outside water tap broke and we had no outside water for five months.

So I had to call Facilities Maintenance to come and fix my problem.

One of the great things about living in embassy-provided housing is that you never have to fix your own problems.  Lightbulbs need replacing?  Put in a work order!  Need to hang pictures?  Work order! Washing machine broken?  Put in that work order and they'll bring a new(ish) one the next day.  Your four year-old colored on all the walls with a Sharpie?  That's what work orders are for!

But one of the downsides about living in embassy-provided housing is that you can't fix your own problems.  We have had power issues since we moved into our house over two and a half years ago, and they still haven't been fixed.  One of our kitchen lights started smoking while we were eating dinner.  I put in a work order, the FM guy came when I was out, and insisted to Kathleen that there was no problem.  See?  No smoking lights right now!

So when the water is out, I have no choice but to call FM to come and fix it.  And until they come and fix it I don't have any water.  After this had happened for the thirtieth or fortieth time, Brandon made me sit and watch the entire process.  "Look," he told me, "it can't be that complicated.  They come, they do something, and ten minutes later you have water again.  Just watch and see what they do.  Then you can do it instead."

So I watched.  I watched as they fiddled with one part of the elaborate filter system that was installed last year and then updated a few months ago.  I kept watching as they fiddled with another part, removing things and washing the cake of dirt that had built up inside, and then watched as they backwashed the sand filter.  As the FM guy finished up, he turned to me.  "See," he shook his finger at me, "it is very difficult.  Very hard to do."  I nodded.  Sometimes it's easier to nod then argue.

Last Tuesday it happened again.  I came downstairs from school to find a trickle of water and not clean clothes where clean clothes should have been.  As always, the water coming into the tanks had slowed to a trickle.  I considered calling FM.  Then I considered pulling all of the hoses through the house and just filling it up and getting on with my day.  And then I put on my big girl pants and pulled out my wrench.

First stop was the incoming water pipe.  I turned off the water supply (very important!), wrenched open a side valve, and cleaned out the screen that had filled with miscellaneous gunk.  Then I put it all back together.  Next I moved on to the first filter bolted to the wall.  I managed to wrench the plastic wring holding a clear plastic cup assembly up to the water supply, but was stymied when the cup itself would not come off.  I wriggled and pulled, but it would not budge.  I had visions of pulling everything off the wall and THEN having to call FM and explained how I had ruined their elaborate set up.  I backwashed the sand filter to release the water pressure, but it still stuck fast.  As a last attempt, I got a butter knife (a very useful tool) and managed to break the seal.  The whole thing came off.  I washed out the screen in the yard, scrubbing as much silt as possible off.

I came back inside, put everything back together, and turned the water on.  Still a trickle.  So I moved to the next filter assembly, two large blue cylinders further on in the system.  Once again I wrenched and wrestled but this one would not come off.  I wrenched some more to visions of ruining the system again and it still wouldn't budge.  One more time I attacked it and finally, with a flood of muddy water, it came off.  And was empty.

Some time ago, I had noticed what looked like a big roll of paper towels next to the tall blue filter cylinders.  After a long while I realized it was a filter core.  Then after another while, I noticed a second filter core.  Evidently last time the water stopped, somebody got the bright idea of just yanking the core instead of replacing it.  It's just a little silt after all, right?

So I moved on to the next filter, yanking this one off a little more easily, and found a filter core inside plugged up with mud.  It turns out that water in Dushanbe is really silty.  The mud in this filter had made it through two other filters before being stuck in this one.  I looked at the back-up core, looked up at the muddy one, decided that the back-up one looked cleaner, and plopped it in.  Then everything got screwed together, the water turned on, and the system charged.  I waited a minute or two and then, miracle of miracles, water came gushing into my big, white, plastic water tanks.

Then I did a happy dance and told myself how awesome I was.  I had fixed a problem entirely on my own without anybody helping me.  I told the children how awesome I was and they were kind of impressed, but not really.  After all, mom's job is to fix problems, right?  So I called Brandon and told him what an amazing wife he has.  He said that yes, I truly am amazing, and thanks for fixing the problem.  I hung up and gave myself a few high-fives and watched the water run into the tanks at a breathtaking speed.  I felt the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming impossible odds.  I did another dance and told the children (again) that their mom is pretty cool while listening to my imaginary theme song playing to crowds cheering.  I did a few fist pumps.

And then, I went back to doing laundry.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Story Time

Right now Brandon is reading to the children.  Last month he finished the last of the Harry Potter books, and since he's already read all five of the Fablehaven books and also the Wrinkle in Time series, he's started reading The Lord of the Rings.  Old Man Willow just trapped Pippin and Merry in its tree trunk but luckily faithful Sam will rescue them as he does every time.

I remember being Sophia's age and rushing to get ready for bed on the nights when my dad was home so that I could listen to my own father read The Lord of the Rings.  He had an infuriating habit of reaching a point of extreme suspense and then, while stretching his arms and yawning, announce that it was time for us to all go to bed.  We would groan in disappointment and then beg for just one - only one! - more chapter and then we would go to bed like good little children.  Sometimes he would relent and sometimes we just had to go to bed.

The memory of being tucked into my parents' warm waterbed, bobbing up and down as one of my siblings wiggled, is one of those ones enshrined in childhood remembrance as the Best Times, the times where everything was right and good and perfect in my own little world.  I was safe and warm and listening to a good story read by my perfect, good, loving father.

Some evenings in our house are good evenings.  Brandon comes home from work to a tasty dinner and children bathed and ready for bed.  We've had a good day at school and everyone has finished their work and we've had a nice afternoon together.  All is right in the world and we spend dinner discussing the evolution of germ theory or the fall of Constantinople before the children cheerfully (or at least willingly) help with the dishes and then brush their teeth quickly without any fighting.

Some evenings in our house are not good evening.  Brandon has to work long and the bureaucracy has not given him a break and the traffic has been possibly worse.  The children and I have had a day of wrangling, where nobody wants to get their work done and everybody wants to fight with each other.  The house is a mess, dinner is late, the dinner conversation is largely centered around telling various children to stop fighting, spilling things, burping, making noises, reprimanding each other, or complaining.  Getting ready for bed takes half an hour and a lot of shouting.

But every evening, whether it is a bad evening, a good evening, or an in-between evening, ends the same way.  After everyone is ready for bed (whether quickly or slowly) and we've prayed together, Brandon settles down for story time.  Sometimes it's long because they've gotten to one of the good parts of the story and sometimes it's short because Brandon has read himself to sleep.  But it is always there.

Once I asked Brandon why he read to the children every night.  By the time story time comes around, I am completely done being a parent.  I have spent twelve hours with all six of my children and we have seen enough of each other.  All I want in the world is to get their little bodies in to bed as quickly as possible so that I can finally be off the clock.  My job is not done until all of the monkeys are contained.

"I like it," he told me, "It's one of the best parts of my day.  I don't have to make anyone do anything and we can just enjoy being together.  I always look forward to coming home and reading to the children.  My evening isn't complete without reading to them."

I was floored.  My husband spends all day at work.  He leaves for work right after breakfast and comes home sometimes right as dinner starts, sometimes later.  While we have been going to the pool or playing at the park, while I have been napping and the children playing, he has been working.  No naps or parks or pool for him.  Just work all day, doing whatever everyone else wants of him.  Then he comes home and it is more work, shepherding everyone through dinner and then helping with the dishes and getting children ready for bed.  And then finally, when all of his responsibilities are over and he can do something of his own choosing, he spends his precious free time reading to his children.  And not only does he do it because he knows it is good and right, he does it because he likes it.  He likes spending time with them, sharing his favorite stories and inviting them in.  He would rather be telling the story of Frodo and Sam than surfing the internet or watching TV.  It's enjoyable.  

When I think about Brandon and my father and nightly story time, I am struck every time by the unselfishness of fathers.  They go to work all day (and for my father, sometimes all night) at jobs that most of them don't particularly enjoy.  Some of them work in jobs that are downright dangerous.  And while they are digging ditches and writing cables and delivering babies and fighting wars, everyone else is at home, in the house they pay for, enjoying the fruits of their labor.  I remember waking up around nine on one lazy summer morning and realizing that everyone in my family was going to spend the day at the pool while my father spent the day at the office.  His labor was supporting the six of us in our laziness (well, my mother wasn't all lazy).  

Fathers don't complain.  They don't come home and tell everyone how great they are because they made it possible for everyone to eat dinner that night.  They don't ask us to tell them how wonderful they are.  They don't whine when somebody else has taken the last drumstick and left them with only a wing.  They don't require homage.  

Instead, they play with their children.  They make sure that if there are seven people and six cookies, everyone else gets a cookie.  They listen to tales of everyone else's day without once interrupting with tales of their own.  They are happy we have gone to the pool.  And they read their children stories.  Because they like to.

Because they are fathers.  And that's what fathers do.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Slowly, Slowly Learning Russian

The girls and I have now been taking Russian lessons for almost two years.  If I were a diligent, active Russian student who did things like homework and flash cards, I would be doing pretty well.

But I'm not a diligent student.  My Russian practice consists of 1. attending our 45-minute lessons three times a week and 2. (somewhat) daily Duolingo practice.  I could claim that I don't have time to do all that other stuff, but I could make time if I wanted to.  I just don't want to.  My daily need for Russian language skills is often nonexistent and when I do use it, it's more of a bonus than anything else.  It's pretty easy to live in a foreign country without knowing the language when you have other people to do everything for you.

But nonetheless the girls and I persevere.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Albina shows up at our house (and when she can't make it we all silently rejoice) and we go through another forty-five minute session of language learning.  We are reasonably proficient in the tenses, being able to conjugate according to several different patterns (but nothing too complicated) and have discussed the idea of aspecutal pairs.  There is a conception of the fact that there are cases floating around in our lessons and recently we have done some work on understanding them, but I'm pretty sure none of us have a handle on all of them.  Sometimes we work on prepositions and their case, but I don't think we know all of them.  I do know that there are a lot of words we don't know but we can do some basics.

I surprised myself a little while ago by translating one of Brandon's phone conversations for my parents.  To my own (and everyone else's) shock, I understood about 75% of what he said.  It wasn't a terribly complicated conversation, but I didn't know that I was that capable.  It was a nice feeling.

But I'm not in a very big rush.  We have almost a year left here in Dushanbe, followed by at least two and probably three years in Tashkent.  By then I should have more Russian than I do now.  And that will be just fine.