Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Moments of Our Life

There are moments in life that are etched indelibly on your memory.  Some of these you expect, your graduation day, your wedding day, the day your first child is born.  Others catch you by surprise, but remain vivid and clear even years later.  For me it often seems to include music and foreign countries.  a living room in Jakarta Indonesia, a good friend on guitar and the rest of us in a tight circle arms draped over shoulders singing "Leaving on a jet plane, don't know if I'll be back again" just days before most of the group would indeed be leaving on a jet plane. The Siedlug quick shop restaurant on a Saturday night in Frankfurt Germany, leaning on my husband watching my kids and my husband's colleague and his son enjoying the music of a German guitarist playing American music, laying down the tracks for each song as he goes through his playlist and drinking a dunkels. A Khondi in Lilongwe Malawi, people from several different countries, all together to celebrate our mutual friendship with a very special couple, dancing the Macarena and then singing "We will survive."

Looking back at each of theses moments fills my eyes with tears and my heart with joy.  I treasure those memories and hope that someday, somewhere my path crosses with each of those people again.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Really Murphy? Seriously?

"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."  So states Murphy's law.  There should be an addendum that states "When all is going smoothly, look out 'cause Murphy is on the way."

For the last several weeks I have been uneasy.  Everything was going along very smoothly with pack out, Alonzo's 13th birthday, sponsoring a new family to post in early summer, and lastly purchasing and furnishing a small house in the states to function as our permanent home base.  Dave smirked and called me WW2 every time I expressed any worry.  WW2 for Worry Wart 2, the original WW being his Grandmother Pearl.

Packout is finished and although we came in ever so slightly over the allotted 7200 pounds, we had planned ahead, and it was easily dealt with.  Hands dusted! All finished with that, at least until it all shows back up in Oman.

The new family touched down earlier this week.  In spite of my using the welcome kit's two-molecule thick cheap pots and pans, I manage to create something edible and leave it in their house for their first meal in Malawi. Their house was mostly ready, stocked with the usual welcome kit supplies, and we even made it to the airport on time to meet the plane.  As a bonus for having us as sponsors, they inherited some of our unused consumables.  I hope they are as thrilled with that as I am.

Earlier this month Alonzo turned 13.  In our house 13 is a big deal.  We try hard to do something extra special.  When Dakota turned 13 he had his first ever airplane ride (pre-FS) in a WW2 Ambulance plane. During an air show. It was hard to top that.  We think we managed.  Dave booked a walking safari to go rhino tracking down in Liwonde National Park. Dave and Alonzo didn't just see one rhino, they saw three.  Totally cool.  I will get a blog post all about it up soon, I promise.

In Early March we closed on a house in close proximity to family and friends.  We now have a place that is our very own.  A place with not one single piece of Drexel Horrible furniture, no blah beige rugs either. I can even pick my own curtains.  Those of you rolling your eyes haven't spent the better part of the last decade living in government furnished housing in various countries. We've been online shopping like mad and have managed to order almost an entire house's worth of furniture all scheduled to be delivered within days of our arrival.

The kids are signed up for summer camp in the states. Alonzo and Colin will be going to sleep away camp in Galveston where they will be learning about marine biology and coastal ecology, while  Gray will attend a local day camp. This gives us one week mostly kid free to get the house set up.

In short everything has been going smoothly.  Too smoothly.  I kept waiting to see what was going to go wrong. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something had to  go wrong eventually.  I thought a delivery was going to be delayed and we would end up sitting on the floor all summer instead of on a nice new sofa.  Or perhaps our UAB heading to the states full of ethno-plunder so our new house reflects our travels would be sent to Ouagadougou or deepest darkest Peru.   I should knock on wood because that could still totally happen, but at this point I am not sure I even care anymore.

Monday morning just as we were getting ready to leave for the rhino encounter Dave decided to check his email one more time, and found this waiting in his inbox.

Yep, that is the floor in our new house.  The floor that was fine just a week ago. The floor in the house we haven't even moved into yet. The house where we are supposed to hosting a big family house warming get together just a week after we arrive.  Granted I didn't like that floor and was already planning to replace it in a few years.  But still.  WHY???  I have cried, and ranted, and raved, then I calmed down and looked at flooring options. I discovered if I like a floor it is guaranteed to to cost 75 gazillion dollars a square foot.  I also discovered we are looking at around $3000 just to get the old floor out before we can even talk about a new floor.  I am trying not to freak out, yeah right, like that's working. In the end there is really there is nothing we can do until we arrive in early July and get a good look at the floor ourselves. We may be having that big family house warming get together in the backyard because our new house may not actually be livable right about then.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What else can we blow up?

This is what I heard my husband say to the kids shortly after the trucks left carrying all our wordily possessions.  Sometime during the last few days of packing we found a stash of fireworks leftover from New Year's Eve.  Can't exactly ship those, so what else is there to do except to run right out into the backyard and set them off immediately.  Apparently just making big bangs is far too boring, it is much more fun to blow things up.  Sadly everything is packed and on the back of a truck going down the road somewhere so there rally isn't much to blow up.  They are down to blowing up empty plastic water bottles.  Yes, we are such good examples for our budding pyromaniacs.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Happy Father's Day

This is Dave's Father's Day Present.

Forgive the mess, we are packing and all our art is all stacked and ready to go.  

We saw this piece during Environment Week. Dave was strangely drawn to it, I was unconvinced. I thought it was a little creepy.  The second day we went back to look at it and there was a performance being presented by a local drama group.  It was presented all in Chichewa, so we enjoyed the action but had a little trouble following the plot.  After it was over a gentleman translated it for those of us who "haven't had enough time to practice our Chichewa."

The gist of the play was that a man fell sick and went to his local traditional healer*, we might  call him a witch doctor, to get medicine.  The healer did his best, but the trees that the medicine come from had all been cut down to be made into charcoal.  There was no medicine.  In the end the man died.

There goes the medicine. 
Right about then I knew that picture was coming home with us.

The title of the painting?  "Plant 10 Trees For Medicine."

*There are only about 2 doctors for about every 100,000 people here in Malawi.  For most people traditional healers are the only medical practitioners they will ever see. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I am still alive, I promise

Last you heard I was trying to purge the house of unwanted stuff, while the kids were at camp, and Murphy's law was in over drive. This week I am purging, packing, and organizing like a mad woman because the movers are arriving next week.  I am on a deadline here. Failure is not an option. Actually there is no failure, everything in the house right now is heading to Oman in one big shipment so actually I could quit right now and it would all be OK, at least until I start unpacking boxes.  I am setting things up so that future me doesn't have quite so many problems when the shipment arrives in Muscat, and so that things will go just a little bit smoother when the packers arrive.  I keep telling myself that I will thank me later.

So what else have I been doing other than preparing the house for pack out, swearing I will be more organized in Oman (even I have to say "Yeah right!"), and pre-packing things that are really important to me?  Is that all I do for the last few months at post?  Not hardly.

Earlier this month we celebrated Alonzo's 13th birthday, his actual birthday is tomorrow, but since I knew this week would be crazy, and some of his friends ditched the last week of school and left post slightly early for summer in the states, we celebrated early.  I can't believe he is going to be a teenager.  What the heck happened, and are really going to do this teen thing again?  I barely survived Dakota's teen years.  Dave and I have arranged a special treat for him, but I can't tell you dear readers since he also reads the blog.  You will have to wait, but trust me it is a very cool treat.

Lat month we made one last trip to Zambia for one last fabulous safari.  There is nothing like camping in Africa.  Was that a lion I just heard?  Yep, that was a lion.  Wow, the hippos are loud tonight. Ohh that elephant sounded really close, wonder what upset him?   And yes the animal do move through camp, but usually not until later in the evening after camp has quieted down, sometimes the sounds are right outside the tent.

There was one really scary moment this time, but the boys handled it well.  Shortly after dark, but long before the camp had settled in for the night, Dave and I walked from the tent to the bar to grab a soda (him) and a Mosi beer (me) before it got too late, and the animals started wandering through the camp.  Yes, Wildlife Camp has a bar, and a swimming pool, and hot showers. We really know how to rough it. As we walked by the pool on the way back to the tent we stopped short because there was a hippo standing on the path munching away.  Hippos are seriously dangerous animals and this thing was between us and our kids who we had left sitting outside the tent at our campfire.

We backtracked, alerted the staff who began shooing the hippo towards the river, and then circled waaaay around the hippo.  When we arrived at the camp we found two kids sitting in the car faces pressed against the glass, and the third hiding under a picnic table. Apparently this thing walked right by the kids on it's way from the lagoon to the river. Two of the kids went "Eeek Hippo!" and ran for the car before it got too close, the third went "It's too early, its not a hippo." and stayed his ground until it was really close when he went skittering off to the nearest shelter, the picnic table.  As long as he stayed quiet the picnic table wasn't a bad choice for dealing with a hippo then tend to treat large things like picnic tables and tents as if they were rocks and just walk around them.  Good thing it wasn't a lion or leopard though.

We've made our last trip to the swimming pool at the Tamerind club, it's just too cold now for swimming. We've made our last trip to Mua Mission with some friends where we bought the coolest Guli Wan Kuli carving.  We continue to go out Wednesday nights with friends to eat out.  Tonight is Chinese food.  Yummy!  I'm ordering the spicy tofu and the green beans. We have already said good by to many friends, I hope that someday, somewhere, our paths cross again. There are still more goodbyes to come.  SOB!  We have finished homeschooling this year, although we will continue with a much lighter summer school schedule after pack out is finished.  The boys are not real happy with me. Oh well, suck it up cupcake.

And now...I saved the best for last. In March David and I closed on our own little house in San Antonio.  YAY!  YAY!  YAY!  We are homeowners!!!

We are so excited.  It is little and cute and in the same neighborhood as most of our friends, and some of our family.  We've spent countless hours pouring over websites trying to decide what furniture we want.  We finally, just in the last few weeks, have ordered the beds for the kids, the dining room set, the sofa and coffee table.  We maxed out our airfreight sending mementos and stuff back to make the house feel like home.

San Antonio is our home base where we go every home leave and most R&Rs.  Which means either renting a house $$$$$ or camping at a relative's house. Our family has been very gracious to put us up, but if you have ever hosted someone for an entire month, or been the guest for that long, you know after the first few days it can be tiresome and difficult for everyone. Especially if you are hosting a whole flock of people and not just one person.

Backstory for the those unfamiliar with the foreign service, R&R is a privilege allotted to those of us serving at hardship posts to allow us rest and recuperate, generally once or twice during a 3 year tour. It may be taken overseas, or in the states.  There is no set time limit for R&R.  Home leave is a different beast.  Home leave is mandated by congress for 20 working days, in the states, for the purpose of repatriation.  For both of these we receive airfare, then we are on our own. This seems reasonable until you realize we are mandated by law to take a month long vacation, every 2-3 years.  Could you afford to stay in a hotel for a month?  Would you want to?  How about renting a car so you can get around? Rental cars and hotels are expensive.  If you don't plan carefully it is easy to come out of home leave or R&R with a huge mountain of credit card debt.  Often you end up camping on someone's sofa, and borrowing the family beater,  like a kid home from college, to cut a few costs. No more couch camping for us!  YAY!

We will have one week to turn an empty house into a functioning vacation home.  Why one week?  Because we signed all the kids up for camp that first week back in the states.  While they are at camp we will be unpacking, assembling, and shopping. I am giddy at the prospect.  When we had our house before the FS it was sort of put together haphazardly with hand-me-downs and bargain clearance items.  It was what we could afford back then.  This time we have been able to piece together a look that reflects who we are now, not what we can afford.  Don't get me wrong we have a budget, a really tight budget, but we have managed to cut corners here so we can splurge there, and it all seems to be coming together nicely.  Now all that remains is to see if what I am picturing in my head really works when it is all in the room together.  I will post pictures later.