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Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Breath of Normalcy

One of the small tragedies of quarantine in Uzbekistan has been my yard.  Last year I spent a lot of time and money getting pots, dirt, and flowers for the yard.  When more than three quarters of the plants died, I made plans for improvement this year.  One of the things I vowed to do was wait until later to plant, as March always has a week of warm weather that is followed by weeks of cold rain that is terrible for newly planted flowers. 

I patiently waited until the weather warmed up permanently which was, unfortunately, right before Tashkent went into quarantine.  For the past three and a half weeks, my empty flower pots have sadly waited to be filled, sitting forlornly half-filled with last year's dirt. 

This week I got a text from my wonderful Russian teacher who, knowing my obsession, had been looking for flower sellers who would deliver (these days everyone delivers everything).  One of the sellers let her know that the flower market at Chorsu was still open, and so we made a date to go together and get some shopping done.

Friday morning I pulled out a brand new summer dress and cute sandals, but decided to skip the makeup as it would be covered by a mask and sunglasses anyway.  The children all wanted to know where I was going as they haven't seen me in anything but shorts and t-shirts for over a month.  I can't actually remember the last time I wore makeup.

When I dropped by my teacher's house to pick her up, she came out of her house with a huge smile on her face.  "Oh, I'm so excited! I haven't been out of the house for anything but food or to walk my dog since this has started. My daughter was so jealous that I get to leave today!"

Chorsu, the biggest bazaar in Tashkent, was pretty busy when we showed up.  It certainly wasn't as busy as normal, and most of the usual vendors - souvenirs, jewelry, household goods, clothing, furniture, and animals were closed up.  But there were plenty of food vendors selling the usual vegetables along with new spring garlic and fresh strawberries.  And more importantly, there were flowers.

I browsed my way through the offerings, less than last year, but still plenty enough to fill my pots with lovely, bright, cheerful flowers.  I ended up buying most of my flowers from one vendor who remembered me from last year, and each new group of colorful flowers added to my trolley brought a little surge of joy. 

After the trolley was fully loaded and delivered to my car, we returned for some food shopping.  Following a visit to the strawberry sellers, the honey vendors, and a vegetable stall, we headed back to the car.  When I dropped her off, my teacher thanked me again for the outing.  "It was so wonderful to be at the market!  It almost felt like normal again.  How nice to have that little break!"

I had to agree with her.  It's funny what a treasure it is to go and be at a busy market after weeks of isolation at home.  I'm not much a lover of crowds, but being out among other people brought a smile to my face as we all just went about our normal business for a few hours on a Friday morning.  After seeing empty streets and shuttered stores for weeks, it was lovely to see stall after stall of vegetables, meat, fruit, and eggs.  It was a good reminder that life still goes on, even in the middle of a pandemic.  And also a promise that one day, going to the market will no longer be a treat.  It will just be normal life again.

Sunday, April 12, 2020


We had a very lovely Easter, despite the cold and rainy weather.  After teasing everyone with warm spring weather, Tashkent treated us to a late snowstorm Wednesday evening, followed by two nights of near-freezing temperatures.  Now we have a week of rain, but hopefully that will be the last of cool, rainy days for the foreseeable future. 

We started off our Easter celebrations with an egg hunt on Saturday.  Our Community Liaison Office had already ordered supplies for the embassy Easter egg hunt, so they decided to personally distribute the treats with the help of a good-natured Easter bunny.  Evidently the pair were a hit at all the police checkpoints around town. 

The children were thrilled with their bags full of treats, and we managed to get the eggs hidden and found before more rain rolled in for the rest of the weekend.  I have a reputation in my family for hiding Easter eggs and then forgetting their location when nobody can find all of my devious hiding places, so I declared the hunt a success this year when everyone found all their eggs. 

Elizabeth had also received a goody bag, which Brandon and I took possession of.  She will eventually get her share of the candy in the form of milk, which is better for her anyway, and the empty eggs proved to be exciting enough on their own.

Today we celebrated Easter itself with roast lamb, which everyone declared to be far inferior to ham.  I guess we can drop that meal from the Easter traditions.

However, the egg coloring and following Easter egg roll/crack competition were successful, so I guess I'm still an okay mom.  Our friends in Dushanbe introduced us to this tradition and we've adopted it for our own.  It's really great to have such a big family for things like quarantine Easter egg roll competitions, because we can field enough competitors to make it fun.  In the end, Kathleen took the victor's crown and we all celebrated by eating the eggs.

I think that this Easter was more profound than many past Easters have been.  Being surrounded by the darkness of a pandemic has made the beacon of hope that is the gospel of Christ shine that much brighter.  I am not afraid of the uncertainty of what will come proximately because I know what will come ultimately.  It brings me unspeakable peace to know why I am here and that God is in charge of all things, including viruses. 

Brandon's grandmother, the last of his living grandparents, died yesterday.  She had lived a full life and was ready to go home to her Father and her husband.  As we received updates over the past week of her rapid decline, we felt nothing but peace.  The children were sad, as they enjoyed their visits with their great-grandmother, but they know the separation is only temporary.  Because of this Easter Sunday, we will see Grandma Sherwood again, and she will be resurrected in her perfect form, with both joint and limb being restored their proper frame, and not a hair of her head being lost. 

And so I am grateful for Easter.  I'm grateful for the time I have to spend with my family and grateful that our time together is not limited to our lives on Earth.  For, as the Pascal greeting says, "He is risen! Indeed, He is risen!"

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Treading Water

It feels like a wave has swept across the world.  When the wave was far off, crashing across China, followed by Iran, and then Italy, we knew that it would make it to us eventually.  But until the wave actually crashed over our heads, life continued on as normal with the crashing coming closer every day.

As the wave washed over us here in Tashkent, the excitement and turmoil of the tumble kept us all occupied.  Would we stay or go?  Who was staying?  Who was going?  What will happen?  How will the local government react?  What new restriction is there now?  How long will this last?

But now the wave has passed us by and we are still in the water, endlessly treading.  

I, thankfully, haven't had many medical emergencies, with most of my time in hospitals involving childbirth.  A few children have had procedures and hospital stays, and each one has had one thing in common: waiting.  Medicine is a whole lot of waiting surrounding short, intense moments of action.  Even having a baby is mostly waiting around for the grand finale at the end.  There's a reason I stock up on good books before an anticipated visit to the hospital.

This pandemic has the same feel as any other medical situation: a whole lot of waiting, filled with a lot of uncertainty.  There's nothing most of us can do, and nobody knows how everything will turn out, despite the days of online reading we've all done.  

In the wake of the wave, the waiting has resolved into a daily pattern that looks a lot like what we did before a world pandemic tumbled us out of normal into something else entirely.  Some days, after finishing up thirteen hours of the exact same schedule I followed a month ago, I entirely forget that the world outside our walls is entirely engulfed in pandemic.  The remembrance hits me like a blow, with all the stress, fear, and uncertainty rushing in to overwhelm the domestic tranquility that exercise, meals, school, and childcare have given me.  

Having moved enough, I know that after three to four weeks of anything new wears the newness off and life has a new definition of normal.  And so, after three or four weeks of rarely leaving the house, seeing nobody but my family, and spending every date night at home, life will have taken on its new, quieter rhythm.  We will always have been treading water and we will always be treading water.  Nothing but water in sight.  

And then one day - and nobody knows when that day will be - the water will being to recede and the bottom will appear again.  Eventually dry land will appear and we will remember what it is to walk instead of swim.  It will be strange and awkward at first, but we'll remember how to do it quickly enough.  We'll all look around and exclaim about all the things we had forgotten.  How strange it is to walk freely about!  It feels so incredibly wrong to be around people!  Parks have never looked so wonderful!  It's great to ride again!

Some things will be exactly the same and some will have changed, swept away by the currents surging around us as we were treading water.  We will exclaim over the differences, be grateful for the constants, and then get used to the new shape of the landscape and get back to life.  

But for now, it's treading water.  For however long that lasts.