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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

And Finally, Time to Stop

I love unpacking.  I think I love it as much as I hate packing; packing is just the first step in a long and complicated series of actions that ultimately ends in undoing the first step that took so long in the first place.  But unpacking is the final step before order is restored and chaos is banished and life can return to its smooth path.

On Friday, I began the last unpacking.  I only began it because most of our things (5900 pounds of things) are still somewhere out in the vast unexplored space between here and Belgium, making their obscure and circuitous way from the packing in Baku to the unpacking in Dushanbe.  But I was able to make a start on my ten suitcases, two welcome kits, and a thousand pounds of UAB.  The ton of consumables that showed up on the same day as the UAB is patiently waiting until shelves are constructed for its ow turn at unpacking.

Both shipments had been helpfully stashed in Eleanor's room on the second floor, it being the only clean room in the entire house on the day the shipments were delivered, so Brandon manned the boxes as the rest of us scurried up and down the stairs carrying toys and diaper bins and books and clothing and computers and blankets to their appointed place.  When we hit gold, Brandon sent me down to the kitchen to make order out of the chaos brought to me one newsprint-wrapped bundle at a time.  Sophia or Kathleen would burst into the kitchen, shout "Merry Christmas" as the newest bundle was torn open to reveal a gravy separator or bouquet of spatulas, then scurry up the stairs to bring more packages of unknown and mysterious contents.

After several visits, I had to wade through the drifts of paper that collected around my ankles as I considered where to best put my newest delivery of treasures.  The warm afternoon sun crept across the wall as I imagined myself cooking birthday cakes, making ice cream, and frying chicken in my new kitchen.  After an hour or so of carefully considering the best home for my pans and appliances and canisters and dishes I began shoveling paper drifts from the floor and clearing small piles of detritus from the countertop.  The small uncategorizable things went into that cupboard that always collects those things.  Things that no longer belonged in the kitchen went to their appropriate homes.  A few stray items found their places.  I fetched a cloth and wiped down the now-empty counters.  And then I sat down for a rest.

I found myself thinking of how long it would be before I packed up the unpacked things.  A few weeks, a few months?  No, a few years.  The kitchen was so new and fresh and unknown.  The stove was untried - would it cook slow or hot; what setting would be perfect for simmering, for doughnuts?  The refrigerator was nearly empty; would it have room for all of the leftovers?  My brand new freezer was pristine, waiting to receive the first batch of homemade bread that would fill our new strange house with its old familiar aroma.

This kitchen was still foreign to me, untried and strange.  But in time it would be like the oldest of friends, familiar and comforting.  It would keep me company as I waited for Brandon to come home after a long day of work.  I would fill it with mashed potatoes and stuffing and rolls and sweet potato casserole and just barely fit a turkey in its tiny oven.  In the summer I would watch the children play in the courtyard as the windows let in a cool evening breeze.  Eleanor would pull all of the tupperware out of its drawers.  We would dance to Bill Withers.  We would sing "Happy Birthday."  I would cry.  I would laugh.  I would spank the children.  I would kiss my husband.

And then one day, I would pack it up and leave it, with the memories drifting in the air, hiding in the dark corners of the cupboard.  Someone else would move in and their memories would crowd my own out.

But not yet.  Not this year, or the next.  Not for a long, long time.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas, Observed

Saturday morning was Christmas Day, Observed at our house.  We rationalized that, with the switch in residences and recent move halfway across the world, Santa Claus just had a little bit of a time finding our house and was late.  The children were just fine with that, as long as they got presents.

We had to have a lite version of our usual traditions since Brandon and I had stayed up until midnight  Friday night unpacking everything from the move on Thursday afternoon.  Instead of croissant breakfast ring we had muffins and we skipped any nativity scene on Christmas Eve.

The stockings were placed in the bookshelves with care.

But, as the essentials - toys and candy - were still there, everyone was just as happy.

The dress-ups were very popular.

With everyone.

We had a pleasant morning opening presents and dressing up and eating candy and had a nice afternoon eating snacks and napping and making pumpkin pie.

Eleanor enjoyed the tag on her toy.

And the coonskin cap.

And being cute (well, I enjoyed that part).

We finished the day with the traditional Christmas dinner of Eggs Benedict and soda before watching a movie and then going to bed.

It turned out to be a wonderful day, despite coming two days late.  Merry Christmas, Observed!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

For Christmas this year, we decided to move to our permanent house.  Much to the children's relief, however, we're celebrating two days late, so they still get to open presents (wrapped in moving paper) and stockings (substituted with plastic bags) and have Christmas dinner (eggs benedict, anyone?).  I think that maybe I might have to disagree a little bit with Dr. Seuss about all of those trimmings and trappings.  Not necessary, of course, but really nice.

Sophia got an early jump on Christmas morning by waking up nice and early to vomit (over and over and over), which helped me to be grateful for children who know what a bowl is - and that we're not celebrating today anyway.

All complaining about temporary irritations aside, we are most grateful for all of the wonderful gifts made possible by the birth of our Lord and Savior - our family, our children, and most of all the good news of redemption for all mankind.

We hope you have a wonderful Christmas!!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Edwin!

This week Edwin turned five.  Edwin was my first foreign service baby, born while we were at our first post in Cairo.  He's mostly grown up overseas, with his memories of homes and friends and fun times in a jumble of different houses, different countries, and different continents.  Unsurprisingly, he loves airplanes.

He is good company, finding me when I'm cooking dinner alone and his siblings are all occupied making up some new way to wheel each other around the house in Eleanor's stroller.  After climbing up on the counter, he will keep vigilant watch over the bubbling pot of soup and tell me all about airplanes or when he will be a father or the muppet movie we watched last night, all in the most gravelly voice he can muster.

I love his straightforward nature, maybe because it's the same nature his father has.  Every morning after breakfast he clears his dishes and puts them in the dishwasher, goes upstairs, gets dressed, brushes his teeth, makes his bed, tidies his room, and then settles down to playing.  He never stops to play or mess around or even chat - he's got to get the job done.

He prides himself on how tight he can hug me - wrapping his five year-old arms around my neck every night and squeezing as hard as he can.  I always tell him that I'll never grow tired of his hugs and I'll always love his hugs, even when he is a big grown up man.

Edwin has taught me about the love a mother has for her son, that fierce desire to protect him from anyone who would even think about hurting him.  In some ways it seems like it was only a few short months ago that he was so small, fitting so perfectly into my arms.  I can still hold him, but as he keeps reminding me, it won't be for much longer.  Happy birthday, Edwin!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Learning to deal with it

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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Home-Churching (I may never want to go back)

Every time our family goes to a new post, our church community gets smaller and smaller and smaller.  In Cairo we attended a lovely little ex-pat branch that met in a villa seven or eight blocks away from our apartment.  The ex-pat community was big enough that we had between sixty and ninety members, enough to have a regular three-hour block complete with primary, Relief Society, Priesthood, and youth meetings.  The branch was active and supportive and an important key to surviving two years of Cairo with my sanity intact.

In Baku we also had a branch, but this one was smaller and met next door, at the branch president's house.  We didn't have enough members (anywhere from six to thirty, depending on the time of year and assignments) for a full three-hour block so church was between ninety minutes and two hours.

Now we're on our third assignment in a Muslim country, where the LDS church is not recognized, and so church is, again, a fully ex-pat affair.  Only this time the ex-pats are us - just us.  I feel like we've spent our Foreign Service career trying to find the country with the smallest LDS presence in the entire world and we've pretty much gone as far as we can go.  Anywhere we go can't have a unit smaller than this one - especially if we have more children.

When I was contemplating our impending move to Dushanbe while enjoying the crowd of fellow-worshipers in Falls Church, I was somewhat nervous.  We had tried our hand at home-churching in Baku and it hadn't worked out very well.  And there's something really, really nice about just having to show up and have lessons prepared, talks given, and children taken care of without any effort of mine past getting everyone dressed and in the car.

On our first Sunday in Dushanbe, four days after landing, we got up and cooked breakfast, bathed everyone, and I supervised dressing while Brandon got our church room ready.  We had discussed various locations that would be conducive to children sitting and behaving themselves (the couch, the dining room table) and settled on our study with chairs set up in two rows.  There's something about having chairs in rows that helps small children stay in their own space and sit facing forwards.  Couches are anti-reverence devices.

We have another LDS family coming to post in January, but until they come, Brandon and I decided to have the ultra-super condensed version of church.  We sing a song (a cappella because the piano is... somewhere between Dushanbe and Belgium), somebody prays.  We sing another song and Brandon blesses the sacrament.  Then he passes it (this takes about thirty seconds.  Not much time for reflection so I'd better sin a lot less so that I can fit everything in).  Then we pull out the Gospel Principles manual and our scriptures and read through a lesson in the manual.  We're starting at the beginning and working our way through.  After reading and discussing the lesson, we sing a song, someone prays, and church is done.  It usually takes an hour (the lesson discussions over wander all over the place).

Then everyone changes out of their church clothes and we have the rest of our day to take naps, eat dinner, read stories, and hang out together.  It's fantastic.  I've gone from a four-hour commitment to a one-hour commitment and I actually have a decent chance of having a day where there's some actual rest involved.  I've also found that the discussions we have are really good - Brandon and I have the opportunity to go through the basic principles of the Gospel in a very systematic method and add our own propagandistic spin pointed at specific children (see, this is why fighting is not good) to everything we teach.

I don't have to wrangle anyone into the car in order to wrangle them out of it and then wrangle them into a pew and keep them there without fighting for an hour and a half.  I don't have to collect said children at the end of three hours and then wrangle them in reverse order so that I can undress all of the children before getting some sort of hasty dinner together.  If a child is having difficulties with behaving themselves, I can take them out to any other room in the house and deal with them.  If we get up and get ready in a reasonable fashion we can be done by ten in the morning.  And best of all, Eleanor can sleep through the whole thing if she wants to.

Of course I miss the fellowship and support that comes with a normal ward.  I miss the wonderful talks and lessons and three full hours of being spiritually fed.  I also miss having more than thirty seconds to contemplate my baptismal covenants.  But I don't miss all of the crazy logistics that go along with that.

And in the end it doesn't really matter what I do and don't miss about church back in America - we are here and this is what church is - our family alone in the wilds.  It's just gravy that I get to enjoy it, too.  I wonder what remote country we can hide in next?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Your Plane Tickets Now!

We've now had three Saturdays in Dushanbe and the weather (and lice) has cooperated enough for us to be able to get out of the house for the past two weeks and start our adventuring again.  Our car hasn't made it yet, so we've been restricted to walkable, or possibly taxi-able, distances.  I've been very pleasantly surprised, however, with how easy it is to go out and get some Nature in.  Which is why, after all, we were so excited to come to this city in the first place.

Last Saturday we went to the Botanical Gardens.  I wanted to go to Cairo's gardens, Baku's gardens, and even Tblisi's gardens, but I've never made it to any of them.  But now we've made it to Dushanbe's botanical gardens and actually, they were quite nice.

The north part of the gardens is fairly well-groomed with some lovely wood pavilions, which Brandon and I appreciated.  The children tolerated the walking for awhile but quickly grew bored of yet another wood pavilion or pretty tree.  However, they perked up when we came to a long line of tubular steel exercise equipment.  Looks like a playground to me!

I enjoyed the wild, forest-like nature of the southern part of the gardens.  They had been planted quite some time ago and lots of underbrush and random trees have grown up over the years.  After living in two cities that don't have enough rainfall to support anything that isn't watered, it was wonderfully refreshing to find underbrush and grass growing on its very own.  The entrance fee for our whole family added up to $1.20, so I imagine we'll become quite familiar with the gardens over the next few years.

Last Saturday we went hiking in the foothills behind our permanent house.  If you follow the roads up the hill, eventually they peter out and the real fun can begin.

They have a nice view over Dushanbe (mmm! Smell that air quality!) and are, apparently, all public land.  They appear to have been terraformed and planted with trees - probably to control erosion. 

We got lots and lots and lots of puzzled looks from the locals living up on the hillsides - after all what white (really, really white) people go and slog around in the mud for fun.  We do!  Because, if you haven't figured it out yet, we're crazy!

Eleanor is non-plussed.

We stopped for a picnic, because it's not hiking if there's not a picnic at the top.  It's the only way we can get the children to agree (not that their agreement is necessary, but it helps to curb [some of] the whining).  I have big plans for those snow-covered mountains in the background.  The children are going to really love that.

As we were hiking, I informed them that this was effectively our backyard.  Our house (sadly) has a mostly paved courtyard so in order to get some exercise we're going to be doing a lot of wandering over the next two years.  At least it's close!

We're now accepting reservations through 2016.  Book now and we can offer you your own private guest cottage!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Got Milk?

I always dread going back to UHT milk.  It tastes funny, is insanely expensive ($1.70 a liter?!?), and we go through over a box per meal so our trash is constantly overflowing with empties.

But on the upside, it fits very nicely into the refrigerator door shelves.

I'll have to take my moral victories where I can get them.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Busting down the door, or That's how we Sherwoods get things done

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.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The First Week

Moving to a foreign country almost halfway across the world isn't as bad as having a newborn, but it's pretty close.  I know because I've done them both - several times.  There's the same feeling of having your entire world exploded, walking around in a sleep-deprived stupor, not knowing where you are, having the house a complete mess, and constantly running out of basic supplies because you can't get everything together enough to make a coherent grocery list.

The morning after our arrival - Friday - Brandon had to go to work.  So I got up, cooked him breakfast, and ironed his shirt on the ironing pad that is supposed to pass as an ironing board.  Seriously, how hard would it be to just issue an ironing board with the furniture?  This post stocks, along with rooms and rooms of brand-new Drexel Heritage furniture, a fifty-inch flat screen TV and AFN receiver with it as part of our furniture, and they can't bother to spend twenty dollars on an ironing board?  I think that the welcome kit was put together by a secret cabal of housewife-hating people.

I can imagine them now.  "Hey, how about this one?  We'll give them cooking spoons, but they'll be plastic, so that they bend when you try to actually stir anything!  That will really drive those ladies crazy!"  Someone else chimes in, "I know!  Why don't we give them bread pans - because of course the first thing any good housewife wants to do after three days of traveling is make banana bread with the outrageously expensive local bananas - but no cookie sheets.  Won't that be just the funniest?"  A third one interjects, "I've got a better idea!  For large families, we should give them doubles of everything that they don't need - two silverware trays, two corkscrews, two sets of pots, two sets of worthless knives, two sets of mugs, but only four bowls!  That way when the housewife is exhausted from traveling and can't think of anything else for dinner everyone will have to take turns using the bowls to eat cereal!"  They all dissolve into maniacal laughter as the scene fades out.

The children were all sleeping, so I spent an hour or so wandering around the house, zombie like.  Then I checked on the washing machine and tried starting it again, hoping that E17 was just a random glitch.  I thought about I thought about unpacking and decided to read a book instead.  The children woke up and I fed them breakfast.  I started unpacking and stopped.  I read some more of my book.  We all ate lunch (lentil soup - it hadn't been thrown away after all) and I took a nap.  I got serious about making the children unpack.  Brandon came home and we had dinner (not lentil soup).

He looked at the washing machine, and turned the water taps on.  Because I suppose hooking the thing up isn't the same as having it ready to use.  I started it, went upstairs to clean and ran downstairs to find the washing machine walking round the closet, at the end of its tether of cords and hoses.  I balanced the washer (evidently that's not part of the installation either) and started up the washer again.  Right about 1000 RPM, the walking started again.  I sat on it.  We walked together.  I turned it down to 800 RPMs and then 600 and finally 400 before the machine stayed put.  By then the clothes were clean (very clean) so I put them in the dryer.  Two hours and forty minutes until they would be dry.  So we went to bed.

Saturday I went downstairs to finally enjoy my five hours five minute clean underwear and splashed into a quarter inch of water all over the basement floor.  The washing machine had walked far enough to pull the hose drain out of its housing and had instead drained dirty water from washing the scabies towels all over the basement floor.  I got the underwear, went upstairs to feed the baby, and told Brandon about the water.  He went downstairs to clean it up.  I kept him company until I had to shower and dress so I could grocery shop with our sponsor.  I came home and we switched so he could get to the airport and meet up with someone who had our missing thirteenth bag.  I took a nap, took the children for a walk and said hello to friends who had come in August, and Brandon cooked dinner.  While eating our chicken noodle soup, Kathleen complained about her head itching.  I inspected and found her head crawling with lice.  I called my friend who used her internet (since we didn't have any yet) to find Tajikistan-available remedies for lice and stayed up past nine coating Kathleen's head with a mixture of olive oil and lavender oil.

Sunday started off with washing Kathleen's hair repeatedly to get the oil out.  We finally got down to church around noon and were done by one.  I think I could get used to this arrangement.  Our friends invited us over for dinner and we gratefully accepted, happy to go to a house that had drapes and toys and something other than lentil soup for dinner.  We had only met these friends this summer at Oakwood, through Brandon's area studies class, but they have been our lifeline since coming here, taking my fifty desperate phone calls every day and lending us toys and dishwasher detergent (note to self: Calgon only makes washing machine cleaner that comes in tabs that look deceptively like dishwasher tabs) and even having us over for Thanksgiving dinner.  

The next week went more smoothly.  Brandon asked if we could stay in the house that turned out to be only temporary and was told that no, we really have to leave whenever the new house (it's really nice! You'll like it!) is ready.  Unfortunately, I had spent several hours moving almost all of the furniture in the entire house before I found out that we couldn't stay.  Brandon brought me a cell phone the next day so that he could take his to work and I could still have a phone (I guess regular phones are as standard as ironing boards).  Wednesday I woke up with a fever and breast infection.  And the water was out.  When my new best friends showed up (again), they confirmed what Brandon and I had noticed the first day here - the pump connected to our cisterns had never been plugged in.  And the reason it hadn't been plugged in was because the closest outlet was in a room across the basement.  Since we didn't have an extension cord long enough to reach the far-away outlet, they just hacked off the plug from one and wired it to some longer cord.  

Thursday was Thanksgiving, one week after our arrival in Tajikistan.  I went shopping with some new friends (neighbors, and friends of our friends) and got to experience my first snow of the year and my first Presidential Movement.  The truck that had everyone's frozen Thanksgiving turkeys had been delayed and replacement turkeys were being flown/driven into the country - but weren't going to arrive until Friday.  So everyone was left scrambling for Tajik turkeys, ducks, geese, or whatever turkey-like substitute they could find.  

Our Oakwood friends had invited us for Thanksgiving before we even arrived (thank you forever, Facebook, for helping me keep connected to friends everywhere), and so we very gratefully and thankfully headed over to their house Thursday afternoon for a wonderful, tasty, American Thanksgiving.  My grocery shopping friends had also been invited with their two boys, and so we gathered, six adults and ten children, to have our own little piece of America in the middle of Central Asia. 

The house was beautifully decorated, the turkeys (three!) were plentiful, the stuffing was the perfect state of mushiness, and there was even cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie with whipped cream (from Kuwait).  After a long week of adjusting to being thrust out of our own country, our own culture, and our own family circle, it was just the break I needed.  The children had a great time running amok through every part of the house except the adults-only dining room and we enjoyed getting to know our new friends and family who will join us for birthdays and holidays and fun times and sad times throughout the next two years.  

As I snuggled next to Brandon under our scratchy plastic blanket that night, our house smelled a little less foreign and we were no longer alone in a sea of strange people in a strange country.  And I finally felt what I had known all along - everything would all be okay.  

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.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hello From Dushanbe!

We've now been here for ten days and life is settling down - somewhat.  Our internet was finally hooked up on Friday, so here's my journal entry about the trip here.  Enjoy!

It’s 6 am on the first Sunday morning here in Dushanbe.  I’ve been awake since 3:45 and, after having read for awhile, counted backwards unsuccessfully, and made gardening plans for some more time, I’ve finally given up and come downstairs to do something useful.  

Our trip here wasn’t as bad as I had feared in some ways, and worse in others, which I suppose makes for a reasonable trip.  If I had been making this trip five years ago, I would have been an unmitigated stressful disaster.  But as I have grown old and tired and used to international travel, it wasn’t too bad.  We started Monday evening.  I spent the day of our departure packing the rest of our ten suitcases while Brandon took Kathleen and Edwin for haircuts and dropped our van off at the Jeppeson’s so that Jef’s shipper could pick it up.  We had had always planned to just sell the car to Carmax, but Jef offered to buy it back for whatever Carmax was offering - which turned out be be $6000 less than the $11000 we paid for it eighteen months ago.  He was able to pick it the title from where it had been languishing at my parent’s house ever since it was mailed there and the renters never got around to sending it on to us.  

The Super Shuttle picked us up from Oakwood at five, with plenty of time to drop us off at Dulles for our ten o’clock flight to Frankfurt.  We were able to get all thirteen bags checked in without much difficulty and get some dinner at Five Guys (which Kathleen tearfully ate, claiming that she was just too full to eat more than the three bites she had managed to choke down along with the ten french fries) before we had to board the plane.

The flight was very uneventful, and Eleanor fell asleep easily after I nursed and covered her.  She slept until I woke her up for the descent in the morning.  I, unfortunately, did not sleep as well, not wanting to use sleeping pills just in case she didn’t sleep very well.  The children had been passing around a two-days’ fever picked up at Brynn and Chad’s the week before and I lost the count and finally came down with it while traipsing through Dulles.  Thankfully I had ibuprofen to keep the worst of the chills, aches, and fever muted, but sleeping was even less pleasant than it usually would have been on a transatlantic flight in coach.  The children all slept just fine, and Brandon got his usually thirty minutes of rest.

We had scheduled a rest stop in Frankfurt and so when we landed we had to pass through passport control - where the young passport agent let all of the children come into her booth to stamp their own brand-new diplomatic passports - and retrieve our bags for the night.  Brandon ended up having to rent three baggage trolley carts to fit just the suitcases, leaving the two carry-on bags and stroller to be managed by whoever could take them.  So I pushed one trolley, Brandon pushed a second, Kathleen pushed the third, Sophia pushed the stroller, Edwin rolled on carry-on and Brandon looped the second around a wrist while pushing his baggage trolley.  Kathleen, after running her cart into a wall or two, freaked out, broke down in tears, and refused to push her trolley any more.  Edwin also decided that baggage-schlepping wasn’t for him. So Kathleen rolled a carry-on, Sophia pushed the stroller holding Eleanor and Joseph, I pushed a trolley and pulley a carry-on and Brandon wrangled two carts holding much more than their stated 70-kilo carrying capacity.  

I had booked a room at the Sheraton, as it was in the airport and would be easy to get to.  I didn’t know exactly where the Sheraton was, but Brandon and I faithfully followed the small signs encouraging us to keep going through random hallways, street crossings, and doors because somewhere there would be a hotel.  After all, this was Germany and everyone knows that German signs can be trusted.  So our journey progressed, slowly slowly from sign to sign as I herded the children and my trolley while Brandon attempted to make both overloaded trolleys go the same direction at the same time, that direction preferably being forward toward the fabled hotels promised by our prophetic signs.  

Every two or three minutes I would turn around to check on Brandon, not being able to offer anything more than moral support, and one time I turned around to see a smiling dark-haired man pushing one of Brandon’s carts.  Then I noticed that a hijab-wearing lady was pushing the stroller.  And then my cart got taken over by another smiling dark-haired man and I was left with my carry-on bag and Edwin’s hand.  We wound our way through the airport, dropping the hijab-lady and her daughter off at a cafe to wait her husband’s return, as the three men manfully wrestled our ridiculous amount of luggage through several tiny elevators and across approximately three miles of granite airport flooring, pausing every five minutes to consult with a variety of airport workers on the exact location of the Sheraton.

I followed with perfect faith in these strangers who stopped to push a baggage cart and help a wandering family find their way through a strange land.  Eventually we staggered through the glass doors of the Sheraton and our angels left us, their errand done.  I found out later from Brandon that one of the men was a refugee from Syria, come to Germany to escape the fighting.  His wife and children were still there, waiting for him to send for them as soon as he could set up a stable domestic situation.

Grateful, jet-lagged, and hungry, the children and I waited while Brandon checked in.  We waited while he talked to one associate, then while he talked to another, and further while he talked to both together.  The children wandered off to look at a scale model of the Sheraton and I hoped that Eleanor could stay calm for just a few minutes more.  I held Joseph, told Sophia that we would get something to eat soon, and assured Kathleen that I wouldn’t go up to the room without her.  I told Edwin to get off the floor, told him to leave Joseph alone, told him to stop pushing the stroller, told him to get off the floor, told him to not kick his brother, and told him to sit next to me.  Finally Brandon came back.  We did have one of the adjoining two family rooms I had requested, but he had traded the second family room, on the floor below the first,  for a two-twin room on the the same floor as the family room.  

As the two concierges unloaded bag after bag after bag onto the floor of our room, I thought about the difference between can and should and baggage allowances.  Then I applied the same thought to rest-stops.

After feeding everyone fruit snacks, crackers, and granola bars for breakfast/lunch, we suited up and went downtown to have some dinner.  Theoretically we could have eaten at the hotel, but I have learned by sad experience that four tired and hungry children will fight if left unoccupied long enough (more than thirty minutes), no matter how interesting the hotel channel is.  Unfortunately, it was raining in downtown Frankfurt, but it wasn’t raining too much and nobody had too much time in between the U-bahn station and the restaurant to get too soaked.  After a dinner of pork in all its varieties, we got back to the hotel for baths, pajamas and bed.  

Brandon and I finally settled on keeping the three youngest in the family room with me, and having the girls with him in the two-twin room that was just down the hall.  So after settling in the boys, we wheeled the rollaway bed out the door, around the corner, through the lobby, down another hall, to the last very last room door - which opened to a king-sized bed.

Everyone, by this point was tired enough that eight o’clock saw us all asleep.  At 11:30, Joseph woke up with a brief bad dream.  I took him to the bathroom, settled him in, went to the bathroom, took another dose of Ibuprofen for my fever and started counting myself to sleep.  Eleanor cried, and I found her in the dark, changed her diaper, fed her, and settled back to my counting.  My phone, which I had set for seven-thirty the next morning, flashed.  I looked over to see what was the problem.  I set it down.  It flashed again.  The battery was almost dead.  I debated doing nothing, calling Brandon and telling him to make sure his own phone was set, calling the front desk for a wake-up call, and finally got out of bed after fifteen minutes of deliberations and found my charger in suitcase number seven so I could be an adult and be responsible.  I settled back into bed, finally drifting off after ten minutes.  Edwin woke up coughing.  He stopped.  My world went fuzzy.  He coughed five times.  I fell asleep.  He coughed seven more times.  I thought about sheep.  He coughed nine times.  I found cough syrup in bag number five.  I laid down and went back to counting.  Sleep evaded me.  I counted some more, tried to imagine myself floating in the clouds, told myself a story, and finally found my Lunesta in bag number nine.  Eleanor, who had been awake for the last two hours of the shenanigans, started crying.  I put in earplugs.  She kept crying.  I put a pillow over my head.  She didn’t stop.  I gave up and fed her again and then crawled back into bed, confident in chemicals.  Joseph coughed once.  Eleanor cried twice.  I drifted off.  Joseph coughed once.  Eleanor cried twice.  I drifted off.  Joseph coughed once.  Eleanor cried twice.  I drifted off.  And the phone rang at seven, waking me up for the day.

Breakfast the next morning was delicious.  When I declined coffee or tea, the cheerful and attentive breakfast attendant offered hot chocolate.  I filled up on fresh-made french toast, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, krapfen, pastries, muesli, fruit, fresh orange juice, and whole milk.  I always believe in eating as much breakfast as possible when you’re about to travel.  Joseph had the M&Ms that our french-toast cook had scattered around the serving plate.

Our helpful concierges from the night before, no doubt encouraged by the 10-euro tip that Brandon had given them the night before, showed up to wheel our bags back to the airport and right up to the Lufthansa family check-in desk.  The children and I waited while Brandon, surrounded by a sea of bags, checked in.  Parked right in front of the enormous flip-style flight board, the children and I watched as the departed flights’ information spun until all of the spaces were blank.  We counted how many went blank before the entire board - four separate columns of at least twenty-five flights apiece - flipped in one three-second rush of whirling white-on-black letters and numbers to reveal the new information.  After five or six cycles, we decided that eight was the usual number that had to go blank before that magic three-second spectacle occurred.  

We watched the board cycle and cycle again, belongings collected on the ground around Eleanor’s stroller.  Thankfully she had fallen asleep in her car seat at nine in the hotel and had slept through the transferral to her stroller and stayed asleep while waiting for Brandon.  She slept as we watched the board, she slept as Joseph unhooked the cloth stanchion tape guarding the family line, she slept as her siblings, one by one, collapsed on the floor, she slept as Joseph tried to sleep leaning against her car seat, and she slept as Brandon was ushered by a helpful Lufthansa employee to the Turkish airlines desk to see if there was any possible way we could avoid taking all thirteen bags off in Istanbul and re-checking them.  There wasn’t.

So we went through security for the second time in two days and sat down to wait for our inevitable airport bus that wound through the airport, giving Edwin a good view of every single type of wheeled vehicle that operated in the Frankfurt airport.  Three hours after boarding and discovering, much to the girls’ bitter disappointment, that there would be no personal video screens, we landed in Istanbul.  
Brandon and I had gone through various iterations on plans about what to do when we got to Istanbul - would we have to buy visas to be able to get out to baggage claim, maybe just Brandon could go and re-check the bags, perhaps there was some way to do everything internally and no have to deal with passport control, and we finally settled on having him take me to the next gate and then throwing ourselves on the mercy of someone who might be able to help us.  

So when we got off the plane and saw our new dark-haired smiling best friend, I made a bee-line for the young airport services lady and waited for Brandon to explain about five children and thirteen bags.  After listening with a cocked head, she smiled and cleared the last significant hurdle between us and Dushanbe.  “I think I have a solution for you.”

So we waited by the service desk while she found our bags in the vast sub-concourse caverns that shuttle uncounted bags from plane to plane.  A colleague hand-wrote new bag tags which were then attached to our luggage and sent to the plane heading for Dushanbe.  And I thanked Heavenly Father for answering our prayers for easy travel in very real and concrete ways.

Then we went through security again.  We waited with the vast and thronging crowds in the Istanbul Attaturk airport until our flight was assigned a gate and then waited until we could board another bus.  We waited until the plane was boarded and our seats could be sorted our and waited until a fellow passenger was through berating Brandon for having caused so many problems.  Then we waited in line for the airplane to take off and waited for dinner.  And finally I could sleep.  Until someone else’s crying baby woke me up (my baby was asleep again).  I have more sympathy for people who don’t even have children and are woken up by crying children.  I also have sympathy for the mothers of those crying children.  I have sympathy for everyone.  But that sympathy, unfortunately, didn’t help me sleep more than twenty minutes of the four hour-fifteen minute red eye flight.  Neither did counting.

The wonderful thing about airplane travel, however, is that no matter how much sleep you do or don’t get or how well behaved or not your children are or how happy you are or aren’t or how many bags you do or don’t show up with, if you just wait long enough, you will eventually get to where you’re going.  Which at 4:30 Thursday morning on November 20, 2014, was Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  Our new home.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Shots in the rain, again

Last Wednesday was shot day and so it rained.  The Wednesday before was also shot day and so it also rained.  As Brandon works for the Federal government, we have semi-socialized medicine (thank you, all of you faithful tax-payers!) and have to go to FSI, where Brandon has class, to get our pre-departure shots.  Kathleen's the only one who has had a full course of rabies shots, so we still have more round of shots before everything is finished up.  While we already in for rabies, we get some extra ones thrown in for good measure.  I'm not sure what they are, but it's always good to be efficient about getting poked.  I've already got my sleeves rolled up, so poke away.  The children don't mind because they get a lollipop for each poke.  More pokes means more lollipops!

Going anywhere with five children is always a circus, and going anywhere with five children in the rain is a monkey circus, but the goat-rope monkey circus award goes to going to FSI with five children in the rain.  Why is it that nobody else ever has any children at the same time I'm parading my five look-alikes through the hallway?  Brandon always walks fast, but it's never fast enough to evade the stares.

So last Wednesday it was raining, hard.  We owned two umbrellas before coming to Virginia, but Joseph pulled them out of the UAB pile when we were separating items to be sent here.  When we got to Virginia, our two umbrellas were in Belgium.  Now we own three umbrellas (all black), but only one is currently in Virginia.  Since I carry the baby (whose car seat shade-thingy is missing) I got the umbrella and the other children trailed behind me, ducky-style with their hoods pulled up.

I had been late for the last shot appointment, so I made extra sure to get everyone out of the house on time.  Well, almost on time.  We would have been pretty close to being on time if I hadn't missed the light, missed the turn, and had to pull a U in order to wait at the light again.  After showing the guard my ID and placing it on the seat next to me, I barreled down the road to visitor parking and almost ran into Brandon, waiting in the rain to tell me that visitor parking (all five spots) was full.

He hopped into the car and we circled the parking lots along with five or six other cars looking for open spots in the rain.  I could see that anything remotely close wouldn't be open, so I dropped by the entrance and ordered everyone out to wait inside while I trekked back alone, with the umbrella.  After ten minutes of circling (and now fifteen minutes late for our appointment), I finally gave up and parked illegally.  Everyone else was doing it, so I gave into peer pressure.  After all, who would be towing in the FSI parking lot?

I muttered curses against the trees and verdant lawns that hadn't been paved over for parking as I hiked the half-mile back to the entrance where Brandon and the five children were patiently waiting.  Brandon didn't say anything as I dug into my purse to retrieve my wallet.  That was sitting back in the car.  So then I took my turn patiently waiting while Brandon got to double my own trip, in the rain, with no umbrella.  He returned a few minutes later, panting, my red wallet in hand.  I reached for my license, which was still on the passenger's seat.

There are times in marriage where it's just better when both parties say nothing at all, so I waited again, patiently, while Brandon went back out in the rain, with no umbrella.

Thankfully nothing else was going on in the med clinic, so we all recovered from the soaking while watching old episodes of Friends.  I think that Beauty and Beast would have been more audience appropriate, but I don't think my children were interested enough to ask about various jokes.  I watched, fascinated that Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox's hairstyle and clothes were ever considered attractive - by me, no less.

Eight pokes and six lollipops later we were done.  The travel office is just down the hall from the med office so we stopped in to schedule our plane tickets.  Did you know that mileage plus members flying from Dulles to Dushanbe via Frankfurt and Istanbul can earn 7,134 miles?  Eleanor just joined mileage plus last week, that means that our family can earn 49,938 miles in one trip.  Not too shabby.

Brandon decided that taking all of the goat-rope monkey circus out in the rain to trek a half mile back to the car was a bad idea, so he dashed out for his third trip in the rain to our Golden Sienna-Van.  I waited patiently with the children, watching the clock and wondering, as the time ticked from five minutes to ten if maybe there were tow trucks prowling the FSI lots looking for foolish crowd-followers who park in white-stripey places.  I pulled out my phone to think about calling Brandon just as it started ringing.  Apologies on my tongue, ready to promise good behavior for the next month, I answered it.  "I'm just outside."

Relieved, I shepherded the goat-rope monkey circus outside and into various carseats.  As I finally climbed into my own seat and buckled in, I caught The Eye from Brandon.  I figured it couldn't be too bad, considering that he was driving the car, but I pretended nonchalance as I asked about his return trip.

"Everything okay?" I smiled, "You really could have taken the umbrella, you know."

"Welllllllll," he drew it out, focusing The Eye on me.  "It all ended well.  But you'd better be lucky that I run so fast and was able to beat the white truck that boots all of the cars that are foolish enough to park in illegal spaces."

And then he went back to driving.  I kept sitting.  And we stayed quiet for awhile.

Maybe next time we'll just take the Oakwood shuttle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eleanor, almost six months

So Eleanor is almost six months old.  If she was my first child I would be counting in weeks, days, hours, and minutes, but since she's my fifth, we'll just call her six months old.  

I remember thinking that Kathleen was an enormous giant that was about ready to head off to college when she was six months old.  She was hardly even a baby anymore!  I blinked in May and now I have a six month old baby.  It's pretty shocking.

After acting the punk for her first two months she's really settled down to a happy, smiling baby who is completely relaxed about pretty much anything.  I was resigned to giving up our adventure Saturdays until next year, having to work around baby naps, but Eleanor just rolls with whatever we're up to - camping, hiking, or just going to the playground with friends.  I carry her around in my carrier (thank you, Laura, for that recommendation so many years ago) and she falls asleep when she gets tired and the adventure continues.  When we're home she is kind enough to sleep through most (and sometimes all) of school and go to bed before I get dinner started.  I don't think that I could ask for a better baby.  

Every evening when it's my bedtime I feed Eleanor one last time.  Then Brandon and I sit around and admire just how darn cute she is.  I think that I could sit and watch her all day.  I'm probably biased but I think that she might just be the cutest baby ever.

I'm not looking forward to spending four days traveling halfway across the world with a six month-old baby, especially one that has just discovered that the best cure for boredom is to make continual high-pitched baby squeals interspersed with coughing, but I'm pretty sure that we'll all make it there intact.  Because, after all, nobody can stay irritated very long with a baby that is just so cute.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Welcome to Crazy Town

We have just a tad over three weeks left before we hop on a long sequence of airplanes that will eventually deliver us to Dushanbe.  So far I've managed to keep a lid on the Crazy, (mostly) keeping to our normal schedule and fitting in all of the necessary pre-departure administrative items around regular life.  Brandon and I started a checklist and have been steadily marking tasks off to make room for new items.  I checked the initial date on our list a few days ago and realized that we've been working on leaving since the first week of August.

So far we've gotten new passports for everyone (that was a fun dog-and-pony show to take down to Main State), gotten our Tajiki visas, renewed our medical clearances, gotten Eleanor medically cleared, added Eleanor to Brandon's orders, booked plane tickets, booked two hotel rooms in Frankfurt, had two of our three shot appointments, bought consumables, shipped consumables, scheduled our packout, hired a financial planner (to manage the loads of cash we make in our high-class lifestyle), taken everyone but Eleanor to the dentist and half of us to the optometrist, repaired our camera and shoes, and hung out with a variety of friends and family.  It's been busy.

But now life's about to get serious.  I feel that I've actually done a pretty good job of managing the multitude of tiny details; my native tendency is to seriously underestimate the amount of time it takes to get everything done (really, how hard is it to book a few tickets, right?) and then forget about the twenty pre-steps that pop up when you're trying to get one thing done.  Which inevitably leads to complete disaster and all semblance of normal life ceasing for much longer than is healthy for the children and their long-term education.

Life I said, however, this time I listened to my husband's advice (yes, we all get smarter over time) and I really feel like I've got the meta-situation under control.

But it doesn't matter how well you've prepared, eventually three weeks is three weeks is three weeks and life just gets crazy because you can't fit in all of the things that have to be done in around the edges of your normal life.  So next week is our last week of normal life - we'll have school, visit the library, go to the park, spend some time with friends, and enjoy the last week of consistently cooked dinner.  Then, normal life gets packed away for at least four weeks (yes, all of you who know better, I'm being optimistic) while Crazy Town is in session.

Although Crazy Town is, by its very name and nature, crazy and therefore kind of exhausting and pretty unsettling, it has its own appeal.  While we're living in CT, long lasting issues (how are those piles of cash doing?  What about the long-term emotional health of current problem child?  And Ebola?) don't have to be dealt with because we're so busy sorting through piles of crap stuff that has found our apartment and hidden in drawers and closets so it can jump out and scare us two days before the movers show up.  In Crazy Town, nutrition no longer exists (pancakes! again!!), along with healthy sleep needs.  And all of those AAP guidelines about screen time?  They don't apply at all.  The more screen time, the more suitcases I can pack in peace.

By the time we get to Dushanbe, detox from jet-lag, unpack suitcases, figure out how to cook without having to resort to our welcome kit knives, and get some more sleep I'll be ready to leave Crazy Town behind and get back to a life where I have to cook dinner every night, teach school every day, and get up at five every morning.  So it works out pretty well.

But that time is more than a month, several continents, and over seven thousand miles away.  So for now, welcome to Crazy Town!