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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Homeschooling Update

Today Kathleen finished up her fourth grade standardized tests.  We now use an umbrella school for homeschooling, and part of their remaining accredited is having their students take tests every year.  Kathleen has had no problem with them so far (I remember thinking they were a bit of a joke when I was in elementary school), so I'm happy to go along with the rules.

I'm not one for changing horses without extreme provocation - we're using the same homeschooling book that Brandon brought back from the BYU bookstore when I was pregnant with Kathleen - so Kathleen will probably graduate from this umbrella school (along with everyone else).  So it's probably good to start the transcript early.  The thought of Kathleen graduating is a far-distant prospect, but I imagine it won't seem quite such a long time when she's actually graduating.

For the first time since we started homeschooling, we're having a summer break this year.  I've always schooled non-stop, figuring that there's nothing else better going on.  And also, there hasn't been a school year without a significant event to take a large chunk out of the year, necessitating summer schooling whether I wanted it or not.

But we've spent the entire school year in the same house, city, and country, so this year everyone's actually on track to finish their school by the beginning of summer.

Kathleen has already finished her writing program and Sophia is only three weeks away from the end of hers.  Both girls are reaching the end of history (this week was the Korean war), and the science books are just about finished, too.  And Sophia is less than two weeks away from the finishing Math 3, which is one of my favorite milestones because Math 4 is done independently.  I love independent school work.

So this means that we'll actually have some time on our hands this summer.  My childhood summers were spent at the pool and I have very fond memories of those long, hot, wet summers.  The embassy here very conveniently has a pool, so we're going to recreate my summers and spend every day at the pool.  It's the summers at the pool that make my mom job definitely better than working outside the house.

The children will still do some school - Russian and Math (the ones that don't require my input) - and I'll continue working on teaching Edwin to read.  He starts first grade in the fall, which means a whole lot of reading, which means that he has some work to do before that can happen independently.  So unlucky for him, we'll be spending a lot more time reading in the summer.  But that's what happens when you grow up - you have to do horrid things like reading instead of fun things like playing with Legos.

The children know about this plan and are all eagerly awaiting the pool opening - projected to be the first of June - and I am too.  We've worked hard this school year and everyone will enjoy the break.  Most of all me.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

On Beggars

Brandon and I have always tried to be generous with beggars.  Everyone living in poor countries has to come up with their own personal code about beggars, because they're something that you will deal with whether you want to or not.  It's easy to think that you are a kind and generous person until a beggar comes up to you, asking for money.  Suddenly you realize how much someone invading your personal space and demanding that, by virtue of having wealth you should give it away, is intensely irritating.  Then as you brush them off you feel the immediate backwash of guilt from dismissing another human over fifty cents.

Repeat a couple hundred times and eventually your conscience develops a callus.  But it's never quite thick enough.

So, Brandon and I give to beggars.  It's probably not a fiscally wise policy and it may not even be a wise policy in general, if you believe the stories of stollen drugged-out babies carried around to open the pockets of willing people.  But we've decided to assuage our own consciences, rationalizing the giving by quoting scripture and figuring we'd never go broke by giving money to beggars.  And at least some of them have to be legitimate.

But then they learned where we live.

And so we've helped them.  One man needed a loan for a project.  Another wanted a job.  A third came by every few weeks for a little infusion.  The beggar ladies always got bread an a handful of somoni.  It's not hard to help when everyone here is so poor.  Sure, they might not manage the money well, but that was up to them, not us.  

Then one of the men ended up in jail this morning because of things that happened on our property.  And suddenly the money and the dependency and helping and not helping all got mixed up and the questions got more pressing.

The whole situation – the situation with multiple people constantly asking for money – has been an interesting study of where king Benjamin’s sermon hits reality.  It’s really quite easy to give to a passing beggar on the street, but it’s something else entirely to give, give, and give again to people who come and ring your doorbell several times a week demanding that you give them money because their wife is sick or their daughters deserve toys for their birthday or they’re going to Russia for work or they’re trying to pay first month’s rent on a house.  You never know what is lies and what is truth and what is truth stretched into a better lie to get a little more money out of the situation. 

My inclination and Brandon’s too it to tell everyone to take a hike and leave us the heck alone.  Friends in the embassy community don’t give on principle, quoting security concerns (and after this morning, that makes more sense) as a shield to hide behind the fact that really these people are irritating and their demands are so offensive.  Why does my having more mean that you deserve to have any of it?

But then King Benjamin reminds us that we are all beggars and the beggar should not put up his petition in vain.  And don’t forget about Lazarus and the rich man.  So then telling everyone who rings my doorbell to take a hike isn’t so simple.  Is it right to create a situation where these people count on you to get them out of every little situation that comes up?  Is it right to tell them that you can’t help because you think that surely that many children can’t get sick in so short a time?  What if the last ten times are a lie and this one really is a truth?  What if they’re taking your money and spending it on getting drunk and beating their wife because they’re in such a desperate situation?  What if this money will bring food to the four hungry children at home?  I don’t know what it’s like to be hungry.  I don’t know what it’s like to not know where your next meal is going to come from.  I’ve never worried a single day in my life about money. 

I don’t know if there is a good answer.  I don’t know what we’ll do about this going forward.  I don't know what is good for these people ringing my doorbell and I don't know what is bad for them.  And it's frustrating not to know.  

And even more frustrating is knowing that I will never know.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Living in Tajikistan: Earthquakes

I didn't know that Tajikistan was a seismically active country.  When I think of earthquakes I think of California or Japan or somewhere on the Pacific Coast (ring of fire, right?), not somewhere smack in the middle of Asia.

But it turns out that having lots of very high, very young mountains isn't just related to seismic activity, it's caused by seismic activity.

I remember the first earthquake we felt last year.  I was sitting in our study, which is on top of the front porch, and the room started gently swaying.  There had been an earthquake (maybe two?) in Egypt, so knew what I was feeling, but earthquakes always take you by surprise.  My first reaction is to look for the child who is jumping up and down enough to make the floor shake and a half second later I realize that no child can make the floor sway like that, no matter how hard they jump.  All of our rooms have chandeliers and they are the best confirmation of an earthquake - chandeliers never sway for anything but an earthquake.  It seems like they should sway on the slightest provocation - after all, they're just hanging there by a little chain - but they're pretty picky about what makes them move.  And it's pretty much just earthquakes.

After watching the chandelier sway in fascination for a few seconds, I decided that maybe the study that was only supported by two concrete porch pillars wasn't the safest place to ride out an earthquake and so I got out and watched the hall chandelier sway for half a minute more.  Then I asked the children if they had felt the earthquake.  They hadn't.

Our next earthquake was more dramatic.  I was laying down for a nap when the chandeliers started swaying.  Then the doors started rattling right as all of the chandelier crystals started tinkling noisily.  My housekeeper ran in my room, pointed at the chandelier, and grabbed Joseph while I grabbed Eleanor before running out of the house.  We all sat in the courtyard and waited for the chandeliers to stop swaying before trying to go back to life as normal.  The kids talked about that one for days.

The third earthquake happened on Christmas day.  We were asleep for that one.  But everyone else was not asleep and tried to call our radio (off), call Brandon's phone (not in the room) and have mobile patrol check on us (didn't hear the doorbell).  But we were fine.

It has been quiet recently until this past week.  Tuesday we were eating lunch and Joseph started jumping on the floor.  But it turned out (again) to be an earthquake.  One day I'll be able to tell the difference.  We looked at the chandelier (swaying), listened for the tinkles (one or two) and went back to eating our lunch.

Sunday we were watching conference in the study and the swaying started up again.  After watching the chandelier (why is that so fascinating?) for ten or fifteen seconds, we evacuated the study and went to my bedroom (outside wall) and watched the chandelier sway in there instead.  After ninety seconds or so, it calmed down enough that we could go back to watching conference.

I still remember the big Alaskan earthquake that hit when I was in elementary school - the pictures of houses sliding into enormous cracks in the earth haunted my nightmares for years.  Earthquakes and tornados (we've all seen The Wizard of Oz) battled for being the worst natural disasters I could imagine.  Tornadoes could pick your house up and earthquakes could swallow your house.  Both bad.  I was very glad to live in North Carolina where no earthquake has happened ever (oh wait, I just checked.  There was a 2.6 this year).

But it turns out that most earthquakes aren't the huge-cracks-open-in-the-earth type.  They're more like the the-chandelier-is-swaying-keep-eating-your-lunch-kind.  Which are definitely less dramatic, but ultimately much easier on the decorating.  And I'm pretty okay with that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Living in Dushanbe: General Conference

It was General Conference weekend this past Saturday and Sunday.  In the US (and probably the rest of the whole world), LDS General Conference is held the first weekend in April and October.  But in Tajikistan, it's held the second weekend in April and October.

Tajikistan is exactly twelve hours ahead of Utah time, makes it pretty late to start watching conference when the first session begins at ten in the morning.  And the next session - two in the afternoon - is right out.  And I suppose Brandon could get up early on Sunday morning and watch the evening priesthood session that starts at six, but he hasn't yet.

When we were in Baku, everyone watched one session together on Conference Sunday - usually the Saturday morning session - and then tried (and in our house, failed) to play catch-up to watch the other sessions.  It's really hard to get everyone excited to sit down and watch two hours of conference when they're already spent two hours in church on a Sunday - for three Sundays in a row.  We always started out with good intentions, but never finished very strong.

So when we came here and Brandon - by virtue of being the only priesthood holder in the country at the time - was assigned group leader, we decided to do things a little differently.  I've always enjoyed having a weekend dedicated to watching conference.  It's a special time, and the atmosphere builds on itself as everyone sits (or wiggles or colors or lays) and listens to talk after talk from apostles, the prophet, and other general authorities.  It's just not the same when you break it up.  And so we just made our own conference weekend - a week late (thanks, internet!).

The children are pretty reasonable about watching four hours of conference on Saturday and four on Sunday, and I get to feel the warm glow of having seen all of the sessions in one good go.  Sure, the timing may not be orthodox, but we're in Tajikistan and that means we pretty much get to do things however works best for us and our group.

And it turns out that the talks are the exact same ones that everyone else listened to last week.  So haven't it a week later doesn't make that much difference.  Hopefully.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Baby Things

About a month ago I washed a load of diapers.  After drying, the diapers stayed in the laundry room for a week or so.  Then I hauled them up to Eleanor's room.  They sat in her drawers for another week or so longer.  When I finally got tired of them taking up a drawer, I put them away.  In storage.

Back in January I pulled out the toddler bed from storage.  With Eleanor and Joseph watching intently, I awkwardly (and grumpily.  I hate those slats every time) put the little white bed together.  Eleanor, in transports of delight, cooed over her bed, climbing off and on and off and on.  With other things to do, I left her crib up.

Then a week later, I put it away.  In storage.

For the last nine and a half years of my life, I've never been without a crib somewhere in my house.  One baby finishes with the crib because the next one is kicking them out.  I've always had a full bin of diapers.  Packages of wipes are scattered through the house, waiting for the next impromptu diaper change.  Now those wipes are all going dry.

All of my children are walking.  All of my children are talking.  All of my children can (can, not do) feed themselves.  All of them can use a toilet in public.  And I'm still wearing normal clothes with no date in sight for anything different.

This was not my plan.

I've never wanted a break in the babyness, never wanted to take the crib down or put the diapers in storage until I was ready to give the crib away and hand the diapers over to somebody who needed them.  My motto has always been 'the only way out is through.'  Just keep having them until you're done.  And then be done.

My mother, at my age, found herself with an unused crib and extra diapers and that crib waited for four years until my brother was there to fill it.  Our gaily decorated nursery, with cloud wallpaper trim cheerfully marching around the room, waited empty, with no purpose but to wait through the pause.

I always vowed that I would not have the four year gap as I pitied my brother, lagging so far behind everyone else.  He spent all his high school years alone, going on vacation alone with my parents, going out to dinner alone with my parents, and fought the parent-teenager battles alone.  I would not do that to one of my children.

And now here I am, at my mother's age with my own crib waiting and my own plans spoiled and a new level of empathy for my mother.  We make plans and then life makes other ones.  We all know which plans always win in the end.

Sometimes as I look at our five little ducklings playing together I wonder if these are all I get.  And if these are all I get, am I okay with that?  I am okay because I know that if God is okay, then I'll either get okay or spend the rest of my life angry and bitter.  But that doesn't have to mean that I can't be a little sad.  I wonder that if this is just a pause like my mother's, how long will the pause be.  Will I have my own caboose to apologize to as they watch everyone pack up and leave them to be alone with the insufferable parents?  If it is a pause, how long do I wait until I decide that the pause is a period?  Do I try something heroic or just say that five children is enough heroics without getting complicated and expensive medicine involved?  Will I feel like that is giving up?

I had always had a secret plan about how many children I could squeeze in before I hit 35 and I could claim old age as a good excuse to stop.  My secret plan sometimes felt a little selfish - why let age and a number mathematically determined when I was in my twenties stop me from having even more children to welcome in to our noisy happy family and make it even noisier and happier?  Now I have the opposite problem - not enough instead of too many.

I've always known that I would get older and things wouldn't work as well as they used to.  Mostly so far, this has been theoretical.  I've enjoyed great healthy pregnancies that never took more than a month or two to show up.  No morning sickness, no gestational diabetes, no preeclampsia.  I probably took all of those things for granted, although I tried not to.

But now aging is rearing its ugly head and I get to feel the very beginning of what life will bring me with increasing regularity - wanting something that my body can't give me.  In the end I will die and resurrection day will come and that will never happen again.  But for now, I'll just have to wait.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How Medical Care Works in Tajikistan

Joseph has reflux.  We didn't know that when he was a baby.  He didn't have any of the classic reflux signs - crying, slow weight gain, general unhappiness - and so I didn't wonder if he had issues.  A sleeping, happy baby is a healthy baby right?

When he got a little older, I noticed that he would make a strange gasping noise as he sucked his thumb.  I talked with the doctor - he also smelled like bile after the gasping incidents - and she said to see if he still made it after he stopped sucking his thumb - maybe he was just gagging himself as he was sucking.  He's stopped and it hasn't.

So back in November, I talked with the Regional Medical Officer about the reflux and Joseph got put on medication.  If it didn't work, let him know.  It didn't, so Joseph got another medication, at half dose (turns out little boy reflux medication is the same thing as adult reflux medication, just less), which also didn't work.  So then Joseph got a whole dose.  He thought this was very cool, and swallowed his 'capsule,' as he insisted on calling it, every morning with great aplomb.  His favorite trick was to do it without anything to drink.

That, unfortunately, didn't do the trick either.

So Joseph and I are going to London.

If we lived in America like the majority of Americans, we would go to a pediatric gastroenterologist.  If we lived in a large city, we would choose the one that accepted our insurance.  If we lived in a small one, we might drive an hour or so to a nearby city that was large enough to warrant a pediatric gastroenterologist.

But we live in Central Asia.  We also go to see a pediatric gastroenterologist.  Because reflux in Central Asia is the same reflux that happens in America.  But we just go see a pediatric gastroenterologist in London.  See how that works?

Going to London is a fairly involved process.  First, I have to abase myself before Brandon fifty times to apologize for leaving him with the rest of the children to galavant off to one of the most fun places in the world to be stuck in for a doctor's appointment.

Then we have to get plane tickets.  In Baku there was a direct six-hour flight to London.  It was great.  But we don't live in cosmopolitan Baku anymore and our direct flights to western Europe are: Frankfurt.  Once a week.  On Saturday.  Otherwise, if you want to to west, you go to Istanbul.  Thank heaven the embassy provides the plane tickets because it turns out that plane tickets with an open return date from Dushanbe to London are very expensive.  Very.

Next comes the hotel.  Which, thankfully the embassy also provides.  Turns out that there's a whole office in London dedicated solely to taking care of people who live in places where they can't get outlandish things like pediatric GI appointments, or root canals, in the capital city they live in.  It's great.

So Joseph and I are booked at the same hotel that I went to last time I was in London.  It was a very nice room, but I hope that this time my room does not have clear glass wall separating the bathroom and bedroom.  Because I'm not really a big fan of waiting to use the bathroom until Joseph's asleep.  Or showering only after bedtime.

And, of course, the doctor's appointment.  I guess pediatric GI specialists are very busy in London because we couldn't get a doctor's appointment until May.  But also, done by the London medical center (or centre?  After all it is London.  But the American embassy.  Which one?!?).

Then the credit card.  We only have one credit card right now - I'm not big on spending money I don't have - but the limit's a little low.  It's fine for every day spending, but maybe not for London medical spending.  I heard a recent story of a friend who went for testing and spent $15,000 on testing.  Just testing.  Not the room or other expenses.  Our insurance does reimburse the fees, but it takes a few months.  So, another credit card was in order.  Hopefully it will get here before May.

And last, but definitely least, child care.  There was a time once when Brandon pointed out that really it might be better for him to take any medevac'd child (this was a theoretical discussion) to London and we could just live our life like normal without any interruptions.  Then reality intervened and I'm going to London with Joseph because it turns out that Brandon has work to do and doesn't like dropping it in someone else's lap without fair warning.  So that still leaves us one adult down.

My housekeeper doesn't speak English.  Her daughters do (enough) and so they're always a babysitting team.  Anisa comes because she speaks English and Zarifa comes because in Tajikistan unwed young ladies don't go to people's houses alone.  This works well in the evenings, but not so well during the day when things like school are in session.  

Luckily a friend has a housekeeper who speaks fantastic English and is looking for some extra cash.  My (wonderful) friend was happy to loan her housekeeper and so the children will be spending their time with Mrs. Guli.  I don't have high hopes for jobs or school getting done with any consistency, but I'm pretty sure that nobody will die between the hours of nine and six, which is really what I'm looking for anyway.

So after we get the flight, hotel, appointment, and child care lined up, Joseph and I will go to London so that a doctor can spend (maybe) an hour talking to me about Joseph's reflux.  Then we'll hang out for a few days and come home.

Because that's how we get things done in Central Asia.