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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The First Day

4:30 AM, November 20th, we landed in Dushanbe.  As we waited for all of the other passengers to file out of the plane and onto our last bus (seriously?!? I'm pretty sure I saw several unused jetways) I turned to Brandon.  "Thank heaven we're done with this part of the nightmare.  Now we can move onto a new one."

We got on the bus, drove fifty feet, and unloaded into Dushanbe's brand-new airport terminal, so new that the baggage carts still had thin sheets of white styrofoam wrapped around their pristine metal frames.  An expediter had been set up for us, so he grabbed our stack of seven passports, waved us through passport control, and then dropped the children and me at a column while he and Brandon went to one of the two baggage claims to pick up all thirteen of our hand-tagged bags.

All of them, that is, except for one.  After waiting half an hour at five in the morning after flying all night to figure out that one was missing, I didn't really care which one it was at the moment.  We had a car and a house and a nap waiting.  Let's go.

This time I only had the stroller to push as the expediter commandeered several airport workers to follow him in a train of baggage craziness through the randomly parked cars, taxi-men, potholes, and occasional curbs that define airports in all of the countries we've lived in.  A large white van was waiting to receive all of our thirteen-minus-one-bags.  Brandon's work sponsor hopped out, introduced herself, and we all climbed in for the twenty-minute drive to our new home.

Only, it wasn't our new home.  We had been told the day after packout that we would be in a temporary house until our new (as in, the kitchen isn't even finished yet) house was put in order.  But maybe this house we were going to was actually our new home instead?  She wasn't quite clear.  There had been a frenzy of activity while two houses were being worked on and so don't get too comfortable yet.

Our van finally rolled to a stop outside the usual set of iron gates in a concrete wall.  Brandon and the driver schlepped our thirteen-minus-one bags across the brick courtyard into not-our new house while the children, Brandon's sponsor, and I tore through the house like kids on Christmas morning.  Oh look!  Stone floors!  Hey, here's a study! And a dining room!  And an eat-in kitchen!  And a family room!  And four bedrooms upstairs!  Oh wait! Don't forget the basement!  And its endless series of empty rooms!  Look at all of those cisterns!  It's too bad this isn't-but-maybe-is our house!  It's so huge!  And it has some trees in the courtyard!  And nice big windows!

We all finally subsided into quiet by the time all of the bags made it into the house.  I raided the refrigerator for some breakfast - toast, anyone?  Yogurt? and by the time the sun started feebly trying to rise through a grey, overcast day, everyone was ready for a nap.  Of all of the times to arrive in-country, early morning is about the worst.  Everyone is tired, exhausted, and completely thrown off by four days of traveling halfway across the world and now we have to make it through an entire day that require three whole meals before we can all go to bed again.  I'll take middle of the night any day.  Then at least you can let sleep fade some of the shock of being back in a country where nothing works quite all of the way it should.

Usually I'm a great sleeper.  But on Thursday, November 20, at 8 am, I couldn't make it happen.  I thought of the house and how I would rearrange the furniture and how I would fit a swingset into the yard and how maybe it wasn't my house but maybe it was and who I would hire for a housekeeper and how long it would take for our things to get here and was it really going to be my house and how I could make laundry work in the tiny European washer and dryer crammed into a closet in the basement and what was I going to cook for dinner and did they have takeout and has it already been an hour and could I get to sleep in the hour before the alarm went off and 99, 98, 97, 96, this was really boring and were the children warm enough and why did they put our bed in a room that was not attached to a bathroom and why were the boys in the master suite and how was I going to take a shower when the only shower with a curtain was in the boys' room and oh my was I really STILL AWAKE?!?!?

My alarm went off at ten and I had managed to drift off for five minutes before a unidentified horn-blowing person managed to rouse Brandon out of his sleep enough that he could jump up and make sure the children weren't causing problems.  Brandon crawled out of bed to wake the children and left me to find some earplugs, get my scriptures, and get some sleep.  After all, I had been awake since 7 am the day before.  Surely Alma could get me where counting backwards wouldn't help.  An hour later Alma wasn't successful and counting didn't work either and so I crawled out of bed to face the ten more long, tired, grumpy hours until bed time.

I hadn't had any breakfast past the cold half piece of toast the Joseph had abandoned in favor of a nap, so I got myself toast and yogurt and called it lunch.  Halfway through lunch the power went out.  This is not supposed to happen thanks to the large yellow box with an exhaust pipe sitting in our courtyard that was, at that moment, not doing anything.  Brandon suggested waiting it out.  I suggested calling the embassy and asking very politely if we were supposed to go and throw the switch ourselves if the thing didn't start on its own.  After that question was asked to the right people, we had our local friendly facilities staff at our door within twenty minutes, ready to get our power turned on.

With the power on, I decided to wash a load of laundry.  While packing my bags back at Oakwood, I had taken organization to the next level and made a spreadsheet detailing what was in each bag.  So when we came up with twelve and not thirteen bags when we landed, all I had to do was check which number bag was missing.  Thankfully, it was the last bag I had packed and contained a random assortment of things that weren't too critical - some of Eleanor's clothes, extra packing cubes, a backpack, my socks - with the exception of one very critical item - my underwear.  And, being Mormon, I couldn't even run out and get a few extra pairs.

So I loaded up the washer, set it at cotton, and almost fell backwards when my extra-fancy Bosch washer told me that my underwear would be nice and extra-fancy clean in two hours and twenty-five minutes.  I muttered something about talking to Someone about this and stomped back upstairs.

By this time the children were fully awake and bored enough to fight, so we bundled everyone up for a walk.  Our-not-our house was large, full of lots of hard surfaces, and completely without any window covering on any of the large windows, and so fighting echoed marvelously well.  At least the streets had potholes, large piles of dirt, crumbling concrete walls, and two foot-deep gutters to absorb some of the sound.

Brandon's sponsor had mentioned earlier that morning (yes, it was just barely past morning.  How much longer until bedtime???) that a bazaar was just at the end of our road and right up a few blocks.  We didn't have any dinner, didn't have the number for any takeout for dinner, and no ingredients for dinner other than eight cans of peas, six of tuna fish, and a couple boxes of pasta.  And ketchup.  So the bazaar was a great place for a walk.  I can make a whole variety of dishes with potatoes, carrots, and onions.

When our sponsor said 'take a right at the end of your road,' what she meant was 'take a right at the first block,' not 'take a right after you've walked as far as you possibly can and have run into another crumbling concrete wall that bars your progress.'  In all fairness, I'm pretty sure that she told us the right directions and we just weren't listening properly.  In the end we made it to the bazaar via the scenic route after some helpful directions from various locals (all of that language training, now validated), and made it home with exactly three rounds of bread.  Bread for dinner, anyone?

So a few hours later, after the power was fixed and Brandon had cleaned out the pump that had silted up on the downstairs toilet (no joke, after the children's bathwater is drained, there is mud left in the tub) and I had bathed the children and walked around the house like a zombie, dodging piles of suitcases vomiting clothes and toiletries and cords and papers wherever they stood, Brandon went back to the bazaar.  The fast way.

He came back with potatoes and carrots and onions and even lentils and I set to work making lentil soup on my flat-top easy-bake stove (I didn't think it could get worse than the one in Baku, but it turns out that it can) for my family's very first dinner in Dushanbe.  I'm not sure if it was the lack of spices or crunchy lentils or underdone potatoes or nastiest chicken broth ever, but even Brandon declined seconds and opted to fill up on bread instead.  "This," he said, smiling at me in fond recollection of the worst dinner ever, "isn't quite as bad as bulgur risotto in Cairo, but it's pretty dang close.  Don't bother keeping the leftovers."

And so we called it a night.  We put the children to bed, I checked on my cleanest-underwear-ever and found them to be still dirty due to mysterious E17 that would never be explained by the non-provided owner's manual (thank heavens this is maybe not my house), and took a shower.  As Brandon toweled off with the most disgusting scratchiest welcome kit towels ever (why five?  It's a good thing I can convince some of the children to use their sibling's towel), I commented that perhaps they carried scabies and Brandon broke down into fits of laugher, barely able to touch himself with the towel.  Every time he tried to resume toweling, he broke down laughing again, giggling and snorting.  I joined in, happy to be laughing instead of yelling or growling or sobbing.  As Brandon and I climbed into the paper-towel sheets and snuggled under the scratchy plastic blankets I was so happy to finally sleeping after thirty-four hours of awake.  I drifted off to precious, beautiful sleep, happy to be horizontal and happy to be done with my first day in Dushanbe.  One down, seven hundred and twenty-nine to go.


PaulaJean said...

We all hope the second day is better.

S said...

I don't have words for you doing all this with five young kids. I would be crazy and my husband and I would be screaming at each other. You deal with stress and sleep deprivation well!