Once upon a time I used to be a shy(er) person. I would spend twenty minutes getting my courage up to do something simple like ordering a pizza. I didn't like distressing anyone or putting them out of their way and would just wait until someone bothered to notice or remember that I needed something. Maybe it didn't get things done as quickly as could have been done otherwise, but it spared me from uncomfortable social contact.
Then I moved overseas. And then I had five children. Brandon still cringes when he recounts our last flight back from Baku in January when our seats were randomly assigned (again). "You know," he told me after all was settled down, "it probably wouldn't have hurt you to say please before you start moving random strangers around. I heard those ladies talking about how rude you were for half of the flight."
I have mastered a proficiency in That Voice, the one that grated on my nerves every time I heard a seasoned ex-pat open their mouth when we lived in Cairo. "Couldn't they just be a little nicer," I thought to myself as I hear them order the cringing staff around, making sure everything was done right. One day, after I had spent over a year dealing with life overseas, I heard That Voice come out of my mouth. I cringed, and then absolved myself - after all, you get tired of asking nicely when it never gets you anywhere, right?
After the dust had settled from our-house-not-our-house-maybe-our-house-okay-really-not-our-house, I sat down to studying the handful of pictures of really-yes-this-is-our-permanent house, trying to figure out the layout (at one point, I was looking at the reflection on the front windows) so I could at least imagine arranging our life to suit. One day I'm going to build my very own house and have everything exactly the way I want it and never. ever. ever. move. again.
Brandon had talked with someone at the embassy about arranging to have me go and visit the house and see it myself. I waited a day or two in excitement - there's not much else to do when you're confined to an empty house with nothing but ten suitcases' things to keep everyone entertained - and then realized that no house tours would be forthcoming. So I went back to picture studying (hmm, do you think that that is morning sunlight coming through those windows or afternoon?).
At one point in the endless, pointless discussion of The Permanent House, Brandon had mentioned what street he thought The House was located on. I spent the next twenty minutes searching my well-loved Dushanbe map until I found the street (oh! so that must be afternoon sunlight. Good to know).
So when my neighbor-friend took me shopping on Thanksgiving, I kept my eyes open as we wound our way to the grocery store and popped out onto possibly-my-street. Not it, not it, not it, not - and then I caught a flash of bright yellow carving on surrounding large west-southwest windows. "There's my house!" I blurted out in excitement. "We just passed it!" Then we kept on driving.
I, however, made note of the location. Definitely walkable.
The next morning, the sun came out from the previous day's snow, so I packed up the children and headed out. "We're going to see our new house!" I told them. They wanted to know if someone was going to let us in. "Well, I guess we'll just have to see," I hedged. Did they know we were coming? "Well, not exactly, but that's okay. We'll just ask if we can come in. Well, I'll just mime that we want to come in. Yes, I know, I don't speak Tajik - no, not Russian either - but that's why we'll mime. I don't know how to mime that - we'll make it up! Get your shoes on!!"
As we dodged potholes, puddles of water, and eager taxi drivers, I pointedly ignored all of the stares that a white lady trailing four blonde children and wearing the fifth gathers in a town like Dushanbe and forged onward, determined to finally see the house I had been thinking about ever since we put Dushanbe on our bid list a year and a half ago.
After a few crosswalks and traffic lights, we made it to our street and started examining the facades of the houses. Not that one, not that one not that one - and through an open door I saw that flash of bright yellow carving. So I walked right through into the courtyard. A young and very surprised Tajik man popped out of a building in the courtyard. I mimed seeing the house (very obvious - me pointing at the door) and he nodded, not knowing what else to do with this little white lady and her five noisy children.
So we went right in. Because, after all, this was going to be my house and I wanted to see it. He stayed with us through the first floor - oh look! a Bosch dishwasher! No stove yet - it better be a real stove and no easy-bake nonsense - and made a halfhearted attempt to keep up with us, but gave up halfway through the second floor with a shrug and retreated back to the courtyard. The children and I continued onward as I counted bedrooms - five? six? - and planned out rooms and Kathleen fell over herself in ecstasies of amazement over the fancy fanciness of the house. "Mom! Look at the beautiful Old Testament molding! And the chandeliers! And look how many bedrooms there are! And the grand staircase! It's like The Sound of Music!
We kept climbing to the third floor - more Old Testament molding - and went out on the balcony to survey my domain. Our unwilling guide had been joined by another man and both were gesticulating wildly. I went back to my planning. This room was definitely big enough for schooling and a toy room and we could probably put the TV up here too and oh, good, lots of radiators, but only two split-packs. Might be hot in the summer. We'll have to see.
Eventually we made our way back down the courtyard and sauntered out the gate, nodding to our friend as we walked by. Mission accomplished. House found and house explored. Now I could finally know what I had to work with.
That evening we went to the embassy for a Christmas tree decorating party with the children. My grocery shopping friend found me after a few minutes. "I heard about you busting down the door today!" he laughed, "You really had the landlord in quite the tizzy! I heard from the GSO's office that he called all distressed this morning - 'there's this white lady - like really, really white - and she has all these kids - lots of them! so many! and the kids they're all so white - really, really white - and they just walked into the house! And now they're wandering all around the house - so many kids, so white - and looking at everything! What should I do?!?' So the GSO's office told them that it was okay, they knew that white family with the five white kids [we're the largest family at post by two children] and don't worry about them - that was going to be their house." My friend laughed and laughed as he told the story, imagining this poor landlord, not used to the ways of jaded white ex-pat ladies and their very white five children, completely at ends not knowing if he should throw us out on our ears or just patiently wait for us to show ourselves out. "You really know how to get things done, don't you? That's the funniest story I've heard all week!"
Part of me thought that perhaps I should be ashamed about this story - after all, I did upset the poor landlord and I definitely didn't ask permission or even bother to tell anyone but the children that we were going over - but the rest of me was, unfortunately, proud. Look at me - all grown up and getting things done on my very own. Watch out, Dushanbe. The Sherwoods have arrived.