The views expressed in this blog are personal and not representative of the U.S. Government, etc etc etc.
Read at your own risk.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Adventure Monday (with Pictures!)

Last Monday was a holiday, so we did the same thing we do every holiday - we went hiking!  Now that Brandon's extension has gone through, I'm really looking forward to having three more years exploring all of the hikes we can find, and even having enough time to revisit our favorites.  I can hear (fill in child's name) regaling their college roommates with tales of Tajikistan.  "And every. single. weekend. we went hiking!  My parents were the worst. parents. ever.  I thought I was going. to. die.  I am sooo glad to be in America, where there are cool things to do."

We I decided to head east this time, into the Romit valley. I had read about a hike our Tajikistan book and talked Brandon into another wild goose chase.  If I had to write directions to the hike, they would go like this: "Drive east out of Dushanbe.  When the road forks, go through the archway that says 'Romit' (in Cyrillic, of course).  Drive until just before the pavement ends.  This takes longer than it would seem.  Sometimes the pavement gets lost under mud and ruts, but it hasn't truly ended.  Keep going until you reach a big(ish) village.  Turn left in the village - the only left turn you can make - and wander around until road ends in between a stone wall and hillside.  Then start hiking.  Oh, and be careful going over the bridges.  Some of them aren't in very good shape."

"Also, watch out for the massive herds of goats."

We got to the trailhead late (we had to swing by the embassy to gas up the car and then get it jumped after the battery died), so didn't hike as far as I'd planned, but it was still a very pleasant hike.

Edwin is going to regret this picture in about a decade.

And this one, too.

Kathleen is thinking about her coming entry into 'moody pre-teen' territory.

I think they were looking at sticks.  Because, you know.  Sticks.  

Every hike has a different feel.  This was in a river valley which was strewn with rocks.  Good for throwing in the water.

Eleanor is thinking how grass feels funny on her legs.

And it isn't a hike without some stream crossing.

Everyone pretending to smile for the camera.  

The end.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Stop the Vomiting!

Did I ever mention that I hate vomit?  It's not so bad that I sympathy vomit or run out of the room in terror like Kathleen does any time someone makes an allusion to it, but I really don't like vomit.   At all.  Ever.

In the last five days Edwin, Sophia, and Eleanor have vomited more times together than I have in the last twenty years of my life.  Brandon and I have washed six sets of sheets, four blankets, countless washcloths, a pillow, a sleeping bag, two pairs of my pants, three sets of Edwin's pajamas, Sophia's pajamas, all of Eleanor's clothes, seven or eight bowls, the kitchen floor, the bathroom floor, Eleanor's floor, Eleanor's crib, Eleanor's changing table, Eleanor's wall, Edwin's bunk bed, the study couch, my favorite brown chair, and the boys' carpet - twice.

When I bought a carpet cleaner several years ago, Brandon wondered if we really needed yet another appliance to fill up our weight allowance.  We have used it seven times in the last four days - four of those times in the last twenty-four fours.  Now the carpet cleaner is his very favorite appliance in the entire house.  At the first sound of the telltale splash, he starts trudging up (or down) the stairs to hook up all of the hoses and top up the never-empty water tank.  The children't don't even come running when the noise starts up - they know.

Everything started Wednesday night.  We had gotten fresh strawberries and everyone gorged themselves at lunch.  Strawberry season only comes once a year here and so when it's strawberry time, everyone eats as much as they want before the strawberries are gone until next spring.  Edwin had a great time, eating at least a pound all on his own.  That afternoon he started complaining of a stomach ache.  During bed time story, he almost made it to the toilet in my room, but not quite.

He quickly went to sleep after that, on the floor with a bowl, just in case.  While relaxing with Brandon a little while later, I heard Edwin start screaming and Joseph shouting something about throw up.  I opened the door just in time for Edwin to get his second bout all over me.  Then I started screaming.  I'd always hoped to avoid having someone else's vomit on me, but I suppose eight and a half years of parenting was probably stretching my luck a little too thin.

The next day was my turn.  I never did actually throw up, but by the tenth trip to just hang out in the bathroom, I wished that I had just gotten things done the easy way.  I never even made it down to dinner that night - I think that Snickers bar is a very fine meal replacement.  Aren't peanuts legumes?  And chocolate does have dairy in it, so that's two basic food groups.

Friday I spent most of the day in bed, recovering from Thursday's ordeal.  Kathleen and Sophia kept things running well enough that I was able to watch almost all of season five of Downton Abbey on Thursday and get well into a Neal Stephenson novel on Thursday.  I'm glad that I never ever have to go back the very young children part of my life.

That evening Edwin and Sophia both started complaining about stomach aches.  Both got bowls and an early bed time.  Sophia used hers first, and properly.  I've never understood the beauty of a child who can manage their own vomit before Sophia showed my how wonderful it is.  No sheets to wash, no carpets to scrub.  Just back rubbing, water-fetching, and sympathetic noises.  I can do that.  She even got it done before Brandon and I started our movie for that night, The Imitation Game.  I love that girl.

Right about the time Alan was meeting Judy the first time, Joseph came running out of his room.  "Throw up!  Edwin's thrown up!!"  We went running in.  Edwin had moved back to the top bunk, so he had more height from which to spread the joy.  I hauled down Edwin's sheets and blanket and along with Joseph's sheets and blankets and added them to the growing pile of laundry.  Brandon started scraping off the bunk bed frame before pulling out his trusty carpet cleaner.  Edwin headed for the shower.

Brandon and I finished our movie before going to bed.

Saturday morning started with Eleanor in the bath and all of her clothes, blankets, and sheets in the laundry pile.  After cleaning up the floor, wall, and crib frame, Brandon opened the windows in a vain attempt to clear out the diarrhea/vomit smell.

I cancelled our invitation to a friend's birthday party.  We all stayed home.  Between getting some more work in on Neal Stephenson and napping, I changed Eleanor's diapers and cleaned up her vomit.  It's times like that when I'm grateful for the back-up stash of disposable diapers I keep for emergencies.  And four sets of crib sheets.

Today we had church.  Sophia and Kathleen (who had escaped the vomit, but not the fever) were feeling better.  Edwin looked a little down.  Joseph was still as chipper as ever.  Eleanor had breakfast and then around lunch decided that really, food wasn't her thing after all.  After one nap, I found her in a pool of vomit with a dirty diaper.  Maybe she just coughed a little too hard and it went flying out both ends?

Edwin tried to finish his dinner, but couldn't make it before everything came right back up again.  Thankfully the kitchen floor has no carpet.  Brandon fetched the carpet cleaner - those things work really well for hardwood floors too - and Edwin headed upstairs for the bath.  Eleanor joined him.  I rotated another load of laundry.

I've always felt, in the sickie aspect of parenting, that I've gotten a little too lucky.  Friends regale me with tales of multiple children at the same time - the best story ever from a friend in Cairo who flew back by herself with all five of her children for her college graduation and ended the trip sitting in a pool of vomit surrounded by four vomiting children while the fifth slept peacefully through the entire ordeal.  Every time I've wondered how I would be able to handle such a horrid personal nightmare.  Sure, I've had kids vomit every now and then, but not too often and only ever one at a time.

Now, I feel like I've graduated to Real Parent status - at least in the sickie category.  I can tell stories with the best of them and clean up vomit while covered in it without even batting an eye.  It's not necessarily an area that I really aspired to gain great heights in, but it's done now.  But for now, however, I'm happy with Real status.  No Professional any time soon, thanks.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The perfect Saturday afternoon

Saturday morning started out well.  It started after seven, with no children waking me up, only cheerful morning sunshine.  After cinnamon rolls and scrambled eggs for breakfast, Brandon and I cleaned the car with Joseph and Edwin 'helping.'  Joseph helped by not getting in the way, busily driving us all to Tajikistan.  I'm not sure where he starts his journeys from these days, but every single one ends in Tajikistan.

My housekeeper came around eleven to take the girls to a relative's wedding party.  The communication between us is minimal, so I'm never quite sure what is going on when she takes my children to various places.  All I know is that she seems happy to take them along, and the children are having a fantastic opportunity for cultural immersion.  Maybe they'll end up less culturally uninterested than their mother.

After the car was cleaned and the smaller children put to bed for naps, I put myself to bed.  There are few things more luxurious than a Saturday afternoon nap.  I spend some time browsing Facebook, reading all of the links I never have time for, before drifting off to sleep without any commitments or alarms to wake me.

The girls returned in the early afternoon, full of tales about fancy dresses and headpieces with two-foot long feathers on top.  Everyone had treated them nicely and the food was delicious too.  It was so much fun, and how fancy those dresses were!

The afternoon was pleasant and sunny, so Brandon and I decided to have a picnic dinner in the botanical gardens.  I love living in a society that takes picnic-ing very seriously.  Grass is not sacred here, and the whole garden is free to anyone with a blanket and something to snack on.  After Cairo and Baku, where nobody would walk on the grass any sooner than they would walk on the flowers, it's nice to be with reasonable people again.

I used to view picnics as an opportunity to make all of the tasty picnic foods that I never eat - deviled eggs, hummus, baba ghanoush, fruit salad, cookies, and whatever tasty things take to long for normal meals - and would spend all day cooking for a picnic.  So we never had picnics.  Who wants to have a picnic when it takes days to plan it?  Now I pride myself on the speed I can put together a picnic.  After all, who wants to spend all day cooking when you can buy things that someone else already cooked?

Our corner grocery store has a man who sells chickens roasting in the rotisserie oven behind his cracked plastic chair.  Brandon hands him 25 somoni (four dollars) and he grabs a chicken off its spit, bags it up, and hands it back to Brandon.  I buy hot bread from the grocery store behind the rotisserie oven for 1 somoni a round, and with the addition of cucumber and tomato salad, we have dinner.  It may not be gourmet and it isn't exactly nutritionally balanced, but it's dinner that takes me ten minutes.

So after loading a blanket, dinnerware, water, and the children into our red double baby jogger, we stopped to exchange money for dinner before making our way to the botanical gardens.  The evening was pleasant, in the upper seventies, and half of Dushanbe was out to enjoy the weather.  We got many smiles, several thumbs up (I love living in countries where five children is something commendable instead of embarrassing), and no requests for pictures.  Tajiks are friendly, but usually not intrusive.  I love Tajiks.

We found our own spot of grass, laid out the blanket, and enjoyed the supreme pleasure of dining in the gently fading air of a late spring day.  Horse carriages, filled with locals out for a ride in the pleasant evening, clopped by, and children played on the exercise equipment scattered through the gardens.  Parents sat and chatted as their children played.  Everyone enjoyed spring and the prospect of no winter for months to come.

Only a few cups of soda were spilled before the children finished and ran off to play themselves.  I love living in a place where everyone watches out for each other and all children are safe because everyone cares about them.  Brandon and I finished picking the chicken carcass clean and fed Eleanor, banned to the stroller after spilling soda over herself, her blanket, and the picnic blanket, before packing up the things.  We gathered the children and strolled through the garden as twilight set in.  The grass was vividly green and spikes of snapdragons thrust pinks, reds, yellows, and oranges into the gathering dusk.  We stopped to visit the peacocks and I marveled, as always, that they are able to walk with such long, extravagant tails.

On our walk home we stopped to watch as several men finished felling the last twenty feet of a tree that had died.  As the stump crashed to the ground, we all clapped and laughed to see it bounce off another tree and finally come down after so much chopping and pulling.  The men came to the fence and shook hands as everyone smiled, full of Saturday evening bonhomie.  As Brandon and I strolled, talking of nothing, Kathleen and Edwin ran along the mostly empty sidewalk, full of Saturday evening air.

Our last stop was at one of the ubiquitous soft-serve machines that crop up like mushrooms when warm weather sets in.  I like a culture that values their summer evening treats.  When we saw sugar cones in the vendor's plastic bin, Brandon splurged and spent double - a little less than two dollars - on all six of our cones.  We strolled through the quiet neighborhood streets as the ice cream dripped down Joseph's hand, his tongue unable to keep up with the weather.  I kindly made up the difference for him.  When we got home, everyone took to the swings or the jungle gym to savor just a few more minutes of being together in the perfect evening air.  I pushed Joseph high as I could make him go while he laughed in wild delight.  "Higher, Mom!  Higher!!  Push me higher!!!" he shouted over and over again.  Kathleen showed off her upside down hanging skills as Edwin pushed Sophia in her swing.  Eleanor watched it all, taking in these people who would always have been a part of her life.

Eventually everyone went to bed, full of chicken and bread and ice cream and soft evening air.  "Thank you," Kathleen told me, as she kissed me goodnight, "that was the best Saturday, ever."


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ten years and counting

This past week Brandon and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.  Did I ever tell you the story how Brandon and I met?

Brandon and I both started BYU the same year - 2000 - but didn't meet until four years later.  I was friends with one of his roommates and spent an entire year in and out of his horrific, dank basement apartment before I even knew that Brandon existed.  One spring day my friend dropped by and brought another roommate who had just returned from visiting his family in Poland.  When I opened my front door there were three men instead of the two I was expecting.  Thinking that the third, vaguely eastern European looking male might have come back with Michal, I blurted out, "and who's this?  Your Polish friend?"  All three of them looked at me, confused.  "No," Jason carefully explained, "that's Brandon.  He's been living with us for the last year."

Then Brandon twisted the knife even further.  "We met back in February, at one of the dessert nights you hosted.  Do you not remember me?"

And that's how I met (for the second time apparently) the rest of my life.

Brandon and I spent many long hours talking together that spring semester before I headed off to Vermont to spend seven weeks working as camp counselor with a former boyfriend.  The boyfriend stayed former despite his best efforts, and I returned to Provo ready to spend more time with this non-Polish guy who liked hiking and talking for hours and hours and hours.  We would see each other every week or two and pretend that of course this was only deeply satisfying friendship, nothing more, until I forced Brandon to admit in October what we both knew to be true.  A week later we decided to get married.

Six months later we were married and six days after our marriage we were in Cairo to attend an Arabic study abroad.  I had graduated a week before our wedding and so spent seven months hanging out in Cairo while Brandon spent hours with his language partner.

Cairo was a good place to start a marriage.  It was difficult adjusting to a new culture and setting up housekeeping in a new country.  We got much too familiar with each other's bowel health and figured out how to talk about anything and everything.  On a particularly hard day, I wondered what would happen if things didn't work out.  It was then I decided that not working out wasn't an option.  We were going to stay together no matter what life would bring.

I've never regretted that decision a single day of our entire life together.  There have been conversations that I didn't know the ending to and times that have required more from me than I knew I had to give, but I've never once thought that I made a wrong decision on the night we decided we had found something that would last.

In the ten years we've been married every single year has gotten better.  My little brother got married a few months ago, the first wedding in my family since Brandon and I were married.  I remember wondering if I would always miss the heady newlywed days where everything was new and everything was exciting.  What could top that roller coaster ride?  How could you live after going through that?

But as I watched my brother hold his new wife so, so close and smile so much his cheeks must have ached for days afterwards, I wasn't jealous.  I was happy for them, happy that they would get to start down the road to something that would bring them more happiness than they knew existed.  But I wouldn't have switched places with them for anything.  Brandon and I have spent ten years working out a lot of difficulties and coming to understand each other in ways that only lots and lots and lots of time and long conversations that go too far into the night bring.  I know that when he talks about eating kittens, he's kidding, not deranged.  He knows that when I'm mad, he has to talk me off the ledge and back into reason.  We both know that neither one would ever do something to hurt the other person.

When I think of growing old, I can only smile.  I know that the difficulties of the last ten years are only a prelude to the things that we have ahead of us, the heartbreak that we will experience, the sleep that will be lost, the misunderstandings that never stop cropping up.  I can only imagine some of the things I've watched my parents and my husband's parents go through, and are currently going through.  Life only has one stopping point for hard things - death.

But I know that beside me, through all of those things, will be Brandon.  As we face life together, we will grow more into one, one heart and one mind.  Our love will grow deeper as we have more people to love.  Life will become even more beautiful.

Ten years down, an eternity to go.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Living in Dushanbe: Daylight Saving Time

I love daylight saving time.  My favorite time of year is high summer when dusk lasts deep into the evening and the children go to bed when it's still light enough for Brandon and I to sit outside and enjoy a sweetly cold bowl of ice cream in the lingering twilight.  I eagerly look forward to April (apparently, now March) each year when the evening stretches an hour further into night and I can forget that winter ever happened or will every come again.  June 21st is the saddest day of the year, the beginning of the year's march into cold, dark winter.

So far I've always lived in places that observe daylight savings time.  There has been a staggering of times - for a few weeks the deviation from US time is off an hour and even one Ramadan season in Egypt brought a month long suspension of it - but daylight saving time has always given me that extra golden hour of evening.

Not so in Dushanbe.  Tajikistan is mostly agrarian - and quite a few houses still don't have electricity or running water - so there isn't much of a need to monkey with the clocks twice a year.  When the sun rises, you get up.  When it goes down, you go to bed.  Why mess with something that works just fine?  After all, the sun has been rising and setting for a pretty long time now.

Dushanbe is about the same latitude as DC, varying by less than half a degree, so we still have reasonably long evenings.  Right now the sun is setting at 7:15, with twilight lasting until about eight, so it stays light enough for Brandon to make it home to work in full sunlight and we can eat outside when the weather is nice.  Of course I'd prefer to have an extra hour of sunlight in the evening, but it hasn't been as much of a hardship as I feared.

What is obnoxious, however, is the sunrise.  We live a few streets from a hill, so we're blocked in the morning from direct sunlight for quite some time (which isn't so nice in the winter), but it still gets light pretty early.  Brandon and I wake up at five to exercise, which is pretty early in the morning.  It's early enough that I've never woken up to light, even in high summer in Virginia.  I've finished my run to light skies, but never started.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that it was almost light enough to run without any light, and by now it's definitely light enough to run without any light.  This is nice - nobody likes the ambience of single bulb fixtures lighting a 1700 square foot space - and it's pleasant to not feel like one is rising before any sane person ought to be awake.  But it's also unsettling.  The sun isn't supposed to be showing up that early.  Only cold, unpleasant places, like Moscow, have to deal with really early sunrises in the sumer.  Sane places are supposed to let the sane people who live in them sleep in a little bit.

On weekdays this isn't a problem - Brandon and I are awake before sunrise and the children are up around 6:30 for breakfast - but it does get obnoxious on the weekends.  Last Saturday, Brandon rolled over, flapping for the clock.  It was on my nightstand, so I groggily checked the time.  Five forty-five.  Brandon drowsily apologized as we drifted back to sleep, "it was just so light, I thought it was time to get up."  We don't sleep in too late on the weekend - usually the fights and bathroom trips get loud enough around seven - but it's irritating to be able sleep in until seven, only to have light creeping in around the shades at five-thirty.  It ruins a good lie-in.

Thankfully (and sadly) solstice is only seven weeks away and the sunrise can only get so much earlier before it starts heading the other way and we can start to get a little more sleep on the weekend.  But until then, I might have to start wearing an eye mask to bed.  I'm not sure how you remote northerners do it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

I can hardly believe that my little baby just turned one.  It feels like we brought her home to our little three-bedroom Oakwood apartment only a few weeks ago.  Each baby I have grows up faster than the previous one, and Eleanor has grown up fastest of all.

Eleanor is not going to win any Gerber baby contests with her buck teeth and orange hair, but everyone at our house agrees that she is the cutest baby anywhere.  She is always happy to smile her chubby little cheeks and wave her hands at anyone who catches her eye.  Patty cake and peek-a-boo are her favorite games, and if she thinks you haven't played enough rounds with her, she'll grab your hands and clap them for you or hide her face behind your hands.

Eleanor is sadly behind in mobility, only learning to crawl a month and a half ago.  She thought briefly about crawling like a normal baby - on hands and knees - before she decided that her method of swimming across the floor works just fine, thank-you-very-much.  I know that one day she'll finally learn how to walk, but I'm not holding my breath for the next six months.

Eleanor's birthday is the day after our anniversary and so this year we celebrated a few days late after Brandon and I came back from a short getaway.  She doesn't know what birthdays are anyway, so she didn't complain when her birthday came and went without any cake or presents.  When Brandon and I sang to her on her birthday morning, she just looked at us quizzically.  "What is that strange noise?"she seemed to ask.  Then she fish hooked my lip.

We didn't buy her any presents because, as we explained to all of her very disappointed siblings, we don't need any more toys and she's not old enough to know what is supposed to come with birthdays.  Children only receive toys on their birthdays when they actually care, and it's only because they care - not because they need them - that presents are part of the celebration.

I made Eleanor strawberry cupcakes because it's strawberry season.  Only when she spat out the strawberry on top did I remember that Eleanor doesn't like strawberries.  She warily picked at the cupcake we presented her, daintily exploring the slippery texture of the meringue buttercream, but wasn't much interested in eating anything.  So, not to waste a perfectly good cupcake, I ate it.

And that's the life of a fifth child: birthday two days late, no presents, and mom eats your cupcake.  It's good to have things to tell your therapist in twenty years.

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.