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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Adventure Saturday (and still no pictures but with sunscreen this time)

When I packed directed the packing for our hike this past Saturday, I made sure that two things were included: sunscreen and the camera.  I'm not a big picture taker (I'm still not quite sure how Instagram works) but the places we are hiking in are so stunningly beautiful that it's just wrong to not take a camera.  And there are lots of interesting, funny sights too.  Like lots and lots of donkeys.

So when I pulled out the camera to note that everyone was slathering on the sunscreen this time, I was very frustrated to realize that the battery was dead and I had known it and forgotten to charge the battery.  So still no pictures.  Which is an enormous shame because it's wildflower season now.  So you'll just have to imagine fields of bright red wild tulips that won't be around again until next year.  Sorry.

This week we decided to skip the driving adventures and hiked in the Siama River Valley, which was accessible directly from a nicely paved road.  The mouth of the valley was on the other side of the Varzob River, which we had driven up beside, so we had to cross the river before we could start hiking.

Anyone with some cash, a reasonably passing knowledge of welding, and some steel can throw a bridge across the river, but anyone who does that puts a gate on the bridge.  The only public bridges are to towns on the other side of the river - and there are no towns within miles of Siama.  There's also no way to cross at a public bridge and drive up to the trailhead because the only road is the one you drive on.  When I had looked at the proposed hike on Google maps, I did see a bridge, but it looked - judging by the shadow cast in the satellite image - like it had a gate on it.  Thankfully when we drove up, it was open and we were able to make our careful, clanking way across the one-car wide bridge over the Varzob river to begin hiking along the Siama river.

The Siama river is a glacial river, and so was very full of violently rushing crystal clear to deep blue snowmelt, and some of the snow was still around where we were hiking.  The peaks lining the valley were still cloaked in snow, making for lovely scenery.  We had to hike on the north (south-facing) side of the river because the south (north-facing) side trail was covered in several feet of snow up to the river in quite a few spots, including the trailhead.  So we I happily hiked along the north side, climbing over large granite boulders and slipping through snow fields while admiring wildflowers and a lizard as long as my arm.

Eventually we reached a snow field that tilted 75 degrees and ran 150 feet down straight into the very fast, very cold, very rocky river.  Brandon and I decided we had hiked far enough.  We might maybe have thought about braving the snow field if the other side had been promising, but the other side was a near-vertical scramble up a rocky cliff.  Joseph was happy for a picnic and I was too.

We hiked our way back, looking for a spot to stop and found a lovely little grove near the river.  It had willows for shade, grass for lounging, and a good spot to throw rocks from.  Because, as always, it isn't a hike without throwing rocks into a body of water.  The children held rock throwing contests for the largest rock, the loudest splash, the quietest splash, the furthest throw, and the biggest bounce.  Brandon almost got one rock across the river and almost herniated himself heaving a rock that was heavier than Sophia.  We found moss that magically turned green when water was poured on it and a perfect rock to sit on and dangle your feet in the rushing water.  Eleanor sampled the local sticks and small stones while Brandon and I made plans for roasting marshmallows and bringing friends up for picnics.

Eventually we had to head home, but not without plans to return.  Everyone was happy.  Joseph had eaten snacks.  Eleanor didn't spend five hours strapped to my back.  Edwin got to sit and watch and watch and watch rushing water.  Kathleen threw as many rocks as she liked.  Sophia didn't have to hike six miles.  Brandon wore lots and lots of sunscreen.  And I found a good picnic spot.

I'm looking forward to our next Adventure Saturday.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Five Pros and Cons of Dushanbe

Perhaps the first thought crossed your mind - well the second thought after 'where in the heck is Dushanbe?!?' - was 'now that I know where Dushanbe is, I'm shocked to pieces that there are pros to living in the armpit of Central Asia.'  But I'm here to tell you that there are pros to living in the most mountainous country in the world that nobody's ever heard of.

We've been in Dushanbe almost six months and have made it through the roughest part of the year (according to me) and so I think I have a pretty good feel for living here in Dushanbe.

1.  The mountains.  The mountains, the mountains, the mountains.  Did I mention the mountains?  Tajikistan is considered to be 92% mountainous, with half of the country over ten thousand feet.  Wherever you are in Dushanbe, you can look and see some pretty stunning mountain scenery to brighten up your day, and those mountains aren't very far away.  We can drive twenty minutes from our house and be at the trailhead of a hike.  I think that we could spend our whole tour hiking every weekend and still not even touch the possible hikes in this country.  And in the springtime, the mountains turn a violent green and burst into wildflowers.  After a long, grey winter it's wonderful.

2.  The housing.  Everyone here gets a house with a yard.  I haven't seen a house yet that wasn't three stories and almost every single house (not ours) has a full basement.  So there's lots and lots and lots of storage.  

3.  The embassy community.  Dushanbe is a small embassy community (about sixty American employees) so it's easy to get to know everyone.  There are constant activities being organized by the CLO and everyone is happy to make a new friend.  Everyone is like family, whether you like it or not.

4.  The traffic.  Occasionally I've hear about a 'traffic jam' that took a whole five minutes to clear up.  After living in Cairo and Baku, I'm floored every time Brandon and I cruise downtown on a Friday night and there's almost nobody out on the road.  Brandon takes fifteen minutes to get to work every day, no matter what time it is.  It's almost impossible to get lost because the city is so small.  And public transportation is dirt cheap - fifteen cents a bus ride.

5.  The people.  Tajiks are incredibly kind, warm people with amazing hospitality.  While out hiking a few weeks ago, we were invited for tea by some villagers working their fields.  We declined, but when we passed by them on our way back, they had tulips and fresh rhubarb for us.  Being an American is no problem here; they have had such little contact with Americans that we're just an oddity and not a source of hostility or free handouts.  Often we're mistaken for Russians.  

1.  The housing.  The houses are large but have constant maintenance issues because they were built so badly.  In the six months since we've moved here, we've had the facing fall off a wall in our yard, flashing fall off the front of our house, light circuits burn out, two toilet seats break, a leak in our kitchen water piping, several transformers burn out (because of voltage surges), air conditioners not work, shower leaking, gutters leaking, split pack conduit fall off the wall (and then water coming out the wall when they tried to fix the conduit), toilets running, water faucet leaking, faucet handle snap off, and the power flick on and off every time I dried a load of laundry.  And our house is brand new.

2.  Power issues.  The power supply here is not very consistent.  Our generator will randomly kick in several times a week, and in the winter it would run for several hours a day.  This is especially annoying as we don't own a UPS so our computer gets shut down multiple times a day.  It's also annoying if you're using the bathroom when the lights go off before the generator kicks in.  We had friends whose power blew three driers before the embassy shelled out a lot of money for whole house voltage regulator.

3.  Produce.  The produce in the summer is wonderful - fresh, cheap, and all very local.  But in the winter you're down to carrots, potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions, garlic, cucumbers, and greenhouse tomatoes.  So you can put your kale, avocado, and arugula recipes away for the length of your whole tour.

4.  Living in a former Soviet Union country.  Tajikistan is still very much a child of the Soviet Union.  There is not much happening economically, so most of the infrastructure is left over from the Soviet era.  The roads are crumbling.  The walls are crumbling.  The sidewalks are crumbling.  The power poles are crumbling.  Anything that was made of concrete (which is almost everything) is crumbling.  Even the embassy, which is only eight years old, has crumbling sidewalks and roads.  The pool just got fixed up for the swim season because it was leaking.  And it just opened last August.  And it is the third pool built on the embassy compound since 2008.

5.  Getting here.  There are very limited flights in and out of Dushanbe, and every flight gets in at 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning.  So any travel from the states means two nights on an airplane.  And then when you add in the jet lag - recently I got to experience my first 12 hour time difference - it's just rough getting here.  And then it's rough adjusting.  But on the plus side, you probably won't have every relative you know (and some you don't) want to come and enjoy your hospitality while you're in Dushanbe.

Overall, we like Dushanbe, and we like it enough to have extended.  It's a great post for those looking for a quiet little country to enjoy a reasonable standard of living in and make some good friends.  It's not a good post for anyone who can't live without a large offering of cultural experiences, fine dining, night life, or really anything at all.  But for us, it's home, and we like it just fine.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Getting to know my med unit much too well

Last Sunday started out fine.  We had church, aloo gobi with parathas for dinner, and had started on rhubarb mousse for dessert when Kathleen's complaints about her stomach got loud enough that we decided to start listening.  Brandon looked a few things up on the internet, had Kathleen go through a handful of tests, and decided to call the med unit.  The medical facilities available in Tajikistan aren't anywhere you'd like to have your appendix taken out, so catching anything early enough to make a flight to London is a good idea.

The med officer was out of town, so Brandon met the assistant, a local doctor who worked at the embassy, at the med unit.  An hour or so later he came back with a clean bill of health.  She had both her blood and urine checked and nothing showed up.  I'm always happy to be wrong, but there is something anti-climactic about getting all worked up for nothing.

Monday also started out fine.  We had school, went for a walk, and Sophia and I cooked black bean soup and cornbread muffins for dinner.  I was busy finishing the neglected mousse from Sunday night and didn't get Joseph off the counter when he climbed up to helpfully stir the soup.  He was sitting backwards, playing with my spoons when he fell off the counter.  I picked him up, checked for blood, comforted him, and laid him on the couch while I finished up dinner.

It was warm so we ate outside.  Joseph devoured his muffin and had to be fed his soup, as always.  He complained about not feeling well so I laid him down on the couch.  Brandon came home from work a few minutes later and found Joseph fast asleep.  I told him about the fall.  Concerned, Brandon woke Joseph up and made a vain attempt at seeing if Joseph's eyes were tracking properly.  After a failed attempt with Brandon's fingers, I pulled out my phone right as Joseph announced that he was going to throw up and stumbled for the bathroom.

Unfortunately the bathroom was a long walk from the couch and I got to clean up the trail while Brandon showered Joseph down and got him ready for bed.  We tucked him in and I fetched a bowl to save the bedroom carpet.  I brought it just in time for Joseph to use it.  Brandon got to work on Google.  After looking up reasons while you should take your child to the ER after a head injury and finding 'repeated vomiting,' we decided that three times counts as 'repeated.'  If the threw up again, it was time to call the med unit.  Again.

He threw up.  We called the assistant.  After she heard that he had thrown up three times, she started calling clinics to see what was open.  A few minutes later she called back.  Nothing was open.  How was Joseph?  He had just vomited again - just bile now - and so this time we got a house call.  After some examination, Joseph was declared fracture free and fine until morning when the clinics would be open for an MRI.  After the doctor left, he threw up a couple more times before calling it a night and getting to sleep around ten.

The next morning Brandon took him for his very first MRI.  He wiggled so badly that sedation was brought up, but he managed to calm down and eventually just fell asleep.  Brandon brought him home for lunch, and another child was given another clean bill of health.  I was told to not let any more children injure themselves for at least six months.  I stayed quiet.

Friday also started out fine.  The children had school off so I made two pounds of cheese before spending a lovely spring morning outside drawing.  We had plans for meeting friends at the botanical gardens in the afternoon.  The children helped me pack snacks and got their bikes ready to go before heading out.  Everyone was out enjoying the beautiful spring weather and the children explored the paths that wound through the forest, biking ahead and only returning when our calling got loud enough to raise half of Dushanbe.  One time Sophia came back covered in dirt and scratches, crying.  She had crashed her bike, she told me, but some people helped her up and she was okay.  I checked for protruding bones, suspicious bumps, or large swelling.  There weren't any, so we went on.

Sophia, however, felt badly enough to need a twenty minutes' rest before heading back home.  By the end of the ride, she was walking her bike because the rough roads caused her left arm to hurt too much.  I called Brandon.  Luckily he was at work so he couldn't yell.  We conferenced and decided to wait and see in the morning.  The next morning her arm still hurt.  We conferenced again.

I wanted to call up our very good friends and march down to the hospital and get everything taken care of.  We were both home and so nobody would have to miss work or school.  Brandon pointed out that we had already called out the cavalry twice that week and maybe it would be better to wait until Monday during normal working hours.  So we waited.

Monday I got to see the med officer, as our dear friend the assistant had just started an extended leave.  After having Sophia twist her arm, take off her shirt, push against his hand, and a few other things, he declared that her arm probably wasn't broken.  But just to be sure, she would get an x-ray.  Unfortunately, he couldn't go with us because he was the only person in the med unit.  And so our very good friend was called in from her leave to take Sophia to a local clinic for an x-ray.

After a few quick pictures (Mom, that was really fast!), Sophia was declared fracture-free.  As a mother I was relieved.  But I also felt kind of silly for getting alarmed when there turned out to be no problems.  But in the end it's better to not have a broken arm, even if you have feel silly in order to make sure.

Brandon has put us all on a strict diet of doing nothing and going nowhere for at least the next month.  It's bad enough to plague your local pediatrician, but it's ten times worse when you start to get a reputation as that family who has so many children who are getting hurt all of the time - people might start to think that we're doing something wrong.  But I am grateful that no emergency plane flights were taken and everyone is in good health.  For now.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Living in Dushanbe: Driving

We've now been in Dushanbe for five months.  Our car has been here for three months and so I've had enough time to do a bit of driving here.  Brandon usually takes the car to work since I (by my own choice) don't go out much.  The children and I have school every morning and we have a 'park' close enough to walk to, so there's real no need to get out.  But I have driven enough in Dushanbe - I'm by no means scared of driving here, I just usually don't need to - to have gotten a feel for the local conditions.

I only ever drove once when we were in Cairo, so Baku was really first overseas driving experience, and I still remember the sweat slicking my palms the first time I climbed behind the wheel of my big back Honda Pilot (good thing my seat was electric so I could raise it enough to see over the wheel).  Thankfully we had bought a GPS map of Baku; if we hadn't I don't know if I would have had the courage to join the melee that passed for driving in Baku.  But, as with just about everything in life, I got used to it.  Sometimes I even forgot that I was driving around in a foreign country and that in some places people actually obey lane markers.

 But despite my nonchalance about driving in Baku, I was happy to get away from the crazy traffic and crazy drivers and Brandon's variable commute time - anywhere from ten minutes to an hour to travel three miles.

My time in DC made me even more excited to move to a city where there was, according to some reports, no rush hour traffic.  What would it be like to live in a city where the embassy was only fifteen minutes away, no matter the time of day?  Brandon, after talking about traffic with his Tajik teacher, tried to calm me down.  "Karim says," he patiently explained, "that there are more and more cars and the traffic is getting worse.  So don't get your hopes too high."

I did anyway, and when Brandon came home from his first day of work, I immediately questioned him about commute times.  "Well, I can't be sure because we were in a shuttle and had to drop off several people, but it didn't look like it should take any more than fifteen minutes.  We'll have to see."

After our car arrived, was registered (which went off without a hitch, thanks to an amazingly bad set of locally-made windows that we swapped out in Baku for our non-customs clearing tinted ones.  There are at least three cars in the embassy parking lot that are still not registered because of tinted windows), and got its new set of magical red plates, Brandon started driving to work.  And like clockwork, it took him fifteen minutes, no matter what time of day.

When I finally had a reason to drive myself I got to see conditions myself and saw why his times never changed - there were hardly any cars on the road.

Dushanbe is tiny for a capitol city - less than 700,00 people and only has two major roads in the central part of the city - one going north and south and the other east and west.  Both roads are only six lanes wide, with one lane on each side usually used for parking and taxis.  There are no highways in the entire country - once you get out of Dushanbe there is not a single road that is wider than four lanes and only a handful of those.  Most of the country is lucky if the roads are paved at all.

We live on a 'four lane' road major enough to show up as a yellow line on Google maps, and the children and I cross it regularly on foot to get to a friend's house - something I'd never have considered doing in Baku.  Nobody ever gets above thirty five miles an hour in the city and cars come infrequently enough that we have plenty of space to make our slow was across traffic.

Saturday night Brandon and I went to a gathering at a mission member's house.  When we were leaving, the host asked if it wouldn't be too much out of our way to drop another guest off at the Hyatt.  We just laughed as we led our fellow guest to the car - what place in Dushanbe would be out of the way?  Maybe the next town over.  Maybe.

We've heard some complaints about the driving here - but Brandon and I just have to laugh.  The driving here is the usual level of non-first world craziness - passing on double yellow lines, the occasional running of red lights, a little bit of tailgating and taking turns from the wrong lane, but there just aren't that many cars on the road so everything is pretty easy to avoid.  The most irritating thing is the marshrutkas that make up roughly one third of the cars on the road (taxis make up another third) and stop randomly in inconvenient places - like in the middle of the road - and block up traffic.  But usually you can just pull around them and if you are stuck, it takes about thirty seconds before the block is cleared up.  The other day we had to wait for an entire minute and I almost died of impatience.

If this were my first time in these driving conditions I would be appalled by the erratic driving and constant pedestrians crossing against green lights, not in cross walks, and wearing black clothes late at night, but it's not my first time and I've already seen much much worse before coming here.  The traffic here is just refreshing after Baku and DC and I know that I'll tell tales of Brandon's fifteen minute commute for years after we leave Dushanbe.

So I can put driving and traffic firmly in the 'pluses' column of Dushanbe.  Sure, it maybe not exactly what I grew up with, but who can complain about a city with no rush hour traffic?  I certainly won't, and I'm going to make sure to enjoy it for the next two years.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Adventure Saturday (with no pictures)

For our adventure this past Saturday, we went hiking.  Again.  I think the children would enjoy an adventure that involved less hiking and more sitting around, but there's not much of the latter available in Tajikistan, so hiking it is.

When we were in Baku we had a wonderful book filled with all sorts of things to do in Azerbaijan, complete with GPS coordinates and hand-drawn maps.  Any time we wanted an adventure, I just had to go look in the book.  I found a Tajikistan book on Amazon, but it isn't nearly so helpful as the book from Azerbaijan.  'There's a lovely little hike near the village of Dara,' the book will say, but then it won't bother to tell you where Dara is or how to find the hike.  We had quite the time attempting to get to Takob ski resort using the vague directions in the book 'the river forks and one of them leads to the ski resort.  The other doesn't.'

There is a group in Dushanbe that leads hikes every weekend - but the hikes are always on Sunday, and are only attended by adults.  So even if the hikes were on Saturday, I can't imagine anyone being happy about having five small children tagging along.

And so I just kind of make up things as I go along.  Sometimes I'll just look on Google maps for something that looks promising, but a satellite view is not the same thing as driving on a road.  I'll also try and figure out on Google what the Hike Tajikistan group means when they say 'Gusgarf hike.'  And I'll also take recommendations.  But I never go with other people - nobody ever wants to have five children tag along on their hike.

What this means is that every Saturday we go hiking, I get to try and piece together what sketchy information I have into something that ends up at a specific point in Tajikistan that is theoretically supposed to give everyone a fun time.

This past Saturday I used a map I found on the internet and got a reasonable idea of where to start.  We finally got paper maps of Tajikistan and I was lucky enough to find the town where the hike started on my map.  Maps and roads, however, are two different things.  But, after two false starts, we finally ended up on a road that looked like it was going in the right direction.

The hike summary mentioned 'sketchy roads,' which I made sure to alert Brandon to.  My idea of 'sketchy roads' and his idea, however, apparently were two different things, as I got at least three 'you are not my friend right now' during our drive up.  I guess he isn't fond of one lane metal bridges with holes in them or large rocks in the middle of the road or narrow roads with drop-offs on both sides.  I did point out, however, that this time it was sunny and dry.  He did't seem to be too grateful.

We eventually made it to a point where further driving seemed like a bad idea and unloaded everyone for our hike.  The weather was absolutely perfect - sunny and sixty five.  Everyone was happy to get out and stretch their legs and enjoy the warm spring weather.  Three miles later they were happy to have snacks by a snow-fed rocky mountain creek and turn around back for the car.  Our path went by the villager's fields where they were out getting them ready for spring planting.  We passed too many donkeys to count, all loaded up with firewood that had been cut from the hills.  Invitations were issued for chai-drinking, flowers and wild rubarb were given, and one man who kept us company for several miles offered to host us for the night or at least give us dinner.  Eleanor, however, decided that five hours of being strapped to my back was too much and so we thanked him, exchanged phone numbers, and promised to give him a call next time we were in Dara.

Then we headed home and straight for the ibuprofen.  Because it turns out that five hours in absolutely clear mountain sunshine at five thousand feet will give you a fierce sunburn.  The tips of Kathleen's ears were almost purple and every single one of us burned the backs of our necks.  I couldn't kneel to pray the next morning because of the burns on the back of my calves and changing clothes was torture.

So things to remember for next time: define 'sketchy roads' more clearly with Brandon (any road that is more than five miles from a main highway) and bring sunscreen.  Lots and lots and lots of sunscreen.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Easter Weekend

For all Mormons living in America and timezones within reasonable reach of Utah, last weekend was Conference Weekend, in addition to being Easter weekend.  But since an eleven-hour time difference turns a ten o'clock morning session into a nine o'clock night session, we did not watch conference last weekend.  We had firm plans to watch it this weekend, pretending that conference was just delayed by a week.  Unfortunately, one of our members had work all weekend, so next week we have conference.  That's the great thing about home-churching: scheduling is a lot more flexible.

So instead of watching eight hours of Conference talks last weekend, we celebrated Easter.  We attended the embassy Easter egg hunt hosted by the CLO Saturday morning.  Brandon and I debated about going - attending any social event with five small-ish children is a guaranteed workout- but finally were persuaded by the children.  It was the first sunny Saturday in a few weeks, so I wanted to go hiking.  Somehow the children didn't agree that walking up a hill and getting sweaty would be better than looking for free candy.

One of our CLOs enjoys throwing big parties, so eighty one American and Tajik children showed up to eat hot dogs, get their face painted, make bunny ear hats, play games, and most importantly, find their six eggs that had candy in them.  The children enjoyed running around with friends and picking dandelions from the lawn.  I enjoyed getting to know a new mission member, pretending to be an old pro at living in Dushanbe.

Sunday we had church in the morning.  Neither Brandon's family or my family had Easter baskets growing up and so we haven't even thought about having them as part of our Easter traditions.  I remember getting a new Easter dress every year, but that didn't make it to our family traditions either.  Sadly, we're pretty lacking in any Easter traditions.  I don't remember the last time we dyed eggs.  I'll have to work on that next year.

We did have Easter dinner together with friends, however, which is an Easter tradition I do like.  Some holidays aren't much fun when they're celebrated alone.  We got to be part of their Easter tradition - a double-elimination egg roll tournament.  The children had a great time rolling eggs, trying to crack the other person's and perhaps win it all.  Sophia ended up triumphing over all thirteen contestants, beating all comers with the same egg each round.

And that was Easter weekend.  Nothing fancy and nothing particularly profound.  But we did have fun and the children got candy, so that's got to count for something.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Living in Dushanbe: Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is a universal constant.  Everyone in the world has to eat and everyone in the world has to either be the one who gets the food or has food gotten for them by somebody.  In our family, I'm the actual food-getter (Brandon pays for the food, but I actually go out and get the stuff) and so much of my life revolves around food, either getting it, making it, or cleaning it up.  That's a main part of my job, part of the agreement that Brandon and I have that lets me stay home and take a nap every day.

Whenever I think about living somewhere, I first think of the weather and then I think of what food I can get there.  Food is a main tool for my job and so it's a big consideration.  Sub-Saharan Africa may have mangoes, but they're not much of a dairy culture, which is a bit of a problem.  

I knew that Dushanbe wouldn't exactly be a foodie paradise - my favorite quote from the welcome info was "although product varieties are less abundant  than in more developed countries, one begins to appreciate how uncomplicated life becomes when there are fewer shopping decisions to make"- so I shopped accordingly for my consumables shipment and steeled myself for canned vegetables until summer.

My sponsor took me shopping when we arrived and showed me the several stores most people used.  I was a little surprised with what actually could be gotten - tomatoes are apparently a world staple in pretty much any large city - and unsurprised with what couldn't be found - nope, still no peanut butter.  The stores here aren't too different in variety than the stores in Baku, but I'm generally not an exotic-items shopper.  I have whole cookbooks worth of recipes that can't be cooked while I live overseas.  I've got a rotation of twenty or thirty recipes that have ingredients I know I can get or I know to pack in my consumables.  Any new recipe I come across is first evaluated for the availability of ingredients.

In Baku, one could get exotic ingredients if one wanted to go all over the city looking for them and then pay out the nose for jars of American pasta sauce.  I was never that person, so now that those stores aimed at rich foreigners don't exist I really don't miss them.  It's good to be a cook from scratch cook when you live in a land of basic ingredients.  It's pretty amazing the variety of meals you can make that contain carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage.  

The grocery store here do have very limited produce section (although surprisingly large quantities of ginger can be bought) but it's much cheaper and fresher(ish) at the local bazaar so I have my housekeeper shop for me each week at the bazaar.  She also brings eggs and bread.  There is fresh milk available at the stores here, but I have a milk lady bring fresh milk twice a week, from which I make a variety of milk products (yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, cream, sometimes butter).  

This means that I only have to go to the grocery store about once a month, or whenever our butter supply runs low.  Brandon takes the car to work, so it's good that I don't have to shop very often, because when I keep the car it costs taxi fare for him to get to work.  And I'm happy to shop infrequently enough that I forget when it was I last went to the store.

One day I'll be back in the land of twenty varieties of peanut butter and fifty varieties of cheese and I'm not sure if I'll know what to do with myself after having spent decades cooking the same thirty recipes.  I hardly ever even make grocery lists any more because I get the same twelve things - snacks, butter, chicken, pasta, chocolate, juice, occasional condiments, spices, cheese, flour, dried fruit, and nuts - whenever I go to the grocery store.  At first I fought against constantly cooking the same thing - even if nobody else gets bored I do - but recently I've given up caring so much.  Cooking is a job and everyone gets fed even if I'm not excited about what I'm cooking.

I'm looking forward to summer when produce becomes fresh, abundant, and delicious.  The payoff for living through the darkness and unending diet of root vegetables is strawberries, apricots, cherries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, nectarines, pears, apples, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers that were on the plant twenty-four hours before they're in your stomach or on top of your pancakes.  And on those days, you can take your twenty varieties of peanut butter and fifty of cheese.  I'll have cherries in everything instead.