Today marks the fourth week we've been in Dushanbe. We're still in temporary housing and were told last week that next week is when our house will be done. Nobody's said anything since then, so I'm hoping that the plans haven't changed. All thousand pounds of our UAB arrived in Dushanbe on December 11, and after a brief discussion about dropping it off out our temporary house (are you going to move it for us?), putting it in the permanent house (which is still a full-on disaster and has no untouched space to put ten large boxes), putting in the yard of the permanent house (oh, wait, it might rain...), all of our urgently needed things are sitting in a warehouse until December 22.
After hearing all of the horror stories about pouch delays (over two months in the bad times), I decided that I would be clever and pack all of the Christmas presents in our UAB - the same UAB that can't be delivered until our housing is finished.
Edwin's birthday presents are also in the UAB - and his birthday was on Monday. My parents had (wisely) sent the children's Christmas presents through the pouch and so I was able to rummage through and repurpose a Christmas gift into a birthday gift, which combined with a present my wonderful housekeeper brought for Edwin, made enough of a birthday for him. I was able to mooch some candles, sprinkles, and an oven (the gas ran out of our generator right as I was ready to put the cake in the oven) off of my ever-patient neighbor for Edwin's party. Thankfully, he's still young and so is just happy to have cake, candles, presents and a song.
When I was communicating about how long the UAB would take, I understood that two weeks was about usual - our things took three and a half - but nobody mentioned until after pack-out that we would be in temporary housing and so it wouldn't really matter when our UAB made it in country because we wouldn't be able to touch it anyway.
So, ten suitcases, seven people, one month of living out of those same ten suitcases. At least two or three times a day the children come to me wanting to know where various toys are. Are those ones in the UAB coming from Virginia, in the HHE from Baku? Now when exactly are those toys coming? When can we have something more than a few cardboard boxes, the books we brought in our backpacks, the blank backs of your discarded mail (thank you, Edward Jones, for those fifty notices you sent us), and pencils to play with? Because we have nothing to do all day. Every. single. day.
After the third repeat of borsch (yes children, we're having it every week. Why? Because you don't need anything more than a knife, a pot, and a grater [which I cleverly brought in my suitcase] to make it), Sophia wanted to know if we could have something different. What would she like? Black bean soup or sopes or bulgur-lentil pilaf maybe? And then she sighed as I pointed out the missing ingredients in every dish. I'm impressed with how many different ways I can cook carrots, onions, potatoes, and cabbage. Thank heaven the local bread is tasty and cheap and there is a rotisserie chicken man right outside the store where the fresh bread is sold.
The first week of this was torture. I couldn't believe that five o'clock rolled around every day and I had to cook dinner again. With the same four ingredients again. The children constantly begged for me to entertain them. I counted down how many days it would be until I could start thinking about being settled - two weeks? three? I wandered around the house, zombie-like, not able to settle to anything because we might have to pick up and move at any second.
The next week was mind numbing. Every morning felt like Groundhog Day - only I didn't have Sunny and Cher to wake me up in the morning, just my obnoxious alarm. I stumbled around my cold, gloomy, empty, curtain-less house as the screams from the children's fights bounced off the bare walls and floors, almost deafening me. I fought with my tiny washer as it tried to escape from its confines every time I ran a load of laundry. I looked out the window at the only view the window had to offer me. I cooked borsch - again.
The third week was unsurprising. Why would I have something other than carrots, cabbage, potatoes and onions to fix dinner with? Of course I would take a nap in slippers and a sweatshirt - what else do you do when it's sixty-five degrees in your room? Who needs parks to take the children to? It's too cold anyway. That's why we have such a big house!
And now, by the end of the fourth week, I am comfortable. Having more cooking ingredients would just complicate my life with too many choices. I have re-established my morning routines (well, except for exercising. I'm still waiting on my treadmill) and the house stays clean and orderly. How much of a mess can you make with the contents of ten suitcases anyway? Dinner is reliably on the table by six, and the children are in bed by 7:30. I spend the mornings going through the piles of business that got neglected the whole second half of our time at FSI (do you know how much tithing you can owe after not paying it for six months?) and preparing to start school again when we finally have access to our school things again. The children have become amazingly creative with boxes, tape, and paper - Sophia is working on a nativity set constructed out of those discarded EJ statements - and Edwin has several car boxes he has made. We no longer look for Brandon to come home in time for dinner.
And so, of course, life settles down into whatever space you give it.
I've always been afraid of how I would be able to handle possible future crises. When my older sister began Algebra I worried for years that I would never be able to handle such complex math. Of course when I got there, I realized that there quite a few steps between simple multiplication and Algebra - and I learned each one in sequence. When Brandon and I were flying to Cairo less than a week after our wedding, he stopped talking to me. I spent the whole flight worrying that our marriage was already turning sour and we had run out of things to talk about. Only later did I realize that he was simply exhausted from traveling. I remember going through a theoretical schedule for homeschooling two children - when Kathleen was six months old - and realizing that I wouldn't have enough time for a nap (which I do now). Whenever I hear of a difficult situation a friend or acquaintance is in, I wonder if I could hack it in their place.
But after dealing with all of the things I've dealt with in the last month - traveling for four days, losing a bag, being out of water, waiting on housing, doing laundry for three days straight, losing power for hours, lice, lice again, diarrhea, insomnia, breast infections, Joseph peeing on the floor in his room for days in a row, Joseph squirting poop all over the neighbor's floor, Sophia throwing up, being without our things, having Brandon working long hours again, and generally settling into a country that I've never lived in before where just about nobody speaks English - I've realized that I don't need to worry about what may or may not go wrong in my life. Because whatever happens, I will just learn how to deal with it.
And so, in the end, I am grateful for all of the crazy things that have happened since we joined the State Department - babies, babies and babies, evacuating, moving, shipping, packing, flying, arranging, training, and life all in the middle of it. As each crisis peaks and then passes I can look back and see that, once again, I handled it, and I am a little less afraid of the next one.
Brandon came home from work a few days ago and outlined a disaster-preparedness exercise he had attended. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Tajikistan is in an earthquake-prone zone. And, unsurprisingly, almost nothing in the entire country is built to withstand any earthquakes that are worryingly likely to happy. When I realized this - that we could very likely be stuck for weeks in a wreck of a city, waiting for someone to come and rescue us - my blood ran cold. What would I do?
As we talked through the various scenarios - our house collapsed, no water or electricity (please, let it not be in winter), Brandon stranded at work across the river - and planned what we would do in each one, I asked myself the same question I always do. Could I handle it? Would I be able to keep everything together and take care of my family? I visualized squatting in the courtyard of our once-three story house that contained the wreck of our life and all of our food. I saw the rubble and destruction. I imagined the children crying from hunger and filthy. I thought about not having all of the children. I thought about never seeing Brandon again. I thought about Brandon never seeing me again.
But as my mind spun through multitude possible futures, I slowly realized that I wasn't afraid. I could feel my own strength and knew that after a lifetime of fearing the future, I wasn't paralyzed by dread. Maybe I'm worn down or worn out or broken or strong or crazy or naive or unprepared or stupid.
But I am not afraid.