An Interesting Sandwich

An interesting sandwich, all right, but I’m not talking about the culinary kind. I’m referring to a really difficult week sandwiched in between two incredible weekends. (I’m not sure what that says about the reason we came here–> work, but the weekends were really awesome!) 🙂

Ever the optimist, I’ll recount our first wonderful weekend first:

After sleeping in our first morning, (a luxurious, deep sleep that I’ll probably not enjoy often), we awoke to embrace our new lives, our new city, our new colleagues, and hopefully, our new friends. Being without a vehicle and forbidden to use any form of public transportation, we got on our radios and said “Taxicab, taxicab, this is Moses” and in less than ten minutes, a motor pool driver arrives to take us wherever we need to go. Being without a car sucks, but the motor pool (free to us for the first sixty days) and the motor pool drivers are awesome. We headed out to a party (thrown in our honor to welcome us, complete with a goat roast, but also I think just a great excuse for a party!) We met a number of fellow embassy workers, a number of missionaries, and random visitors, and enjoyed some great food.

The goat, or what's left of him.

The goat, or what’s left of him.

Sunday morning we decided to venture out to church. Now if we were hoping for a real African experience, we got one here. It was lively, colorful, spirit-filled, worshipful, hot, and if upon our return we are dancing in the aisles, Fellowship Denverites, please forgive us. 🙂

Later that afternoon, a fellow embassy worker (and fellow recent Denverite) called and offered to pick us up for the embassy softball game, and drinks and hippo viewing at the Hippo Hole, followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Here's our sunset view over Lake Tanganyika. No hippos this time, but I'm promised to see them here.

Our sunset view over Lake Tanganyika. No hippos this time, but a family of them lives here, so maybe next time?!?!

There might not be much to do in Bujumbura, but we were surely kept busy that first weekend, and it was great to make so many acquaintances even before my first day at work! We were so grateful for the warm welcome and how so many people reached out right away.

And then there was a week at work.

Why did I think I was so special that I was going to avoid jet-lag and first week catastrophes?

The first day was back to back in-processing meetings, badging, security briefings, and ambassador meeting. I was exhausted at the end, but happy to be getting started 479 days after I submitted my application. It’s been a long time coming.

And then things started tumbling downhill rapidly,

There were phone mishaps (who tapes an INCORRECT phone number to a phone??? and why does it take three pages to explain how to make a phone call???), and keys locked in the office (rescued by the Marines, who then forgot to tell me of the rescue, which sent me looking for them for two hours and thinking I had lost not only my keys but my mind), and the complete and utter inability to write a “cable” (the electronic communication which starts the medevac process) only to find out I was loaded into the system incorrectly and that’s why I couldn’t do it, and of course, missed Week One radio check in. Oops.

By the end of the first week, I was beyond exhausted, and beyond frustrated, but ready for what our second weekend had on offer: VISITORS!!!

(Who has visitors their first week in the middle of nowhere, East Africa?? We do!!)

My dear, precious friends, Brooke Cantrell, Katie Nichol, and Liz Staples loaded on a bus (we’re talking an African bus here, folks) and road it for six hours, over bumpy roads, with African children stretched across their laps, all the way from Kigali, Rwanda, just to see what cool, hip things we had going on here in Bujumbura. And after sleeping in our air conditioning on very comfortable beds, and being driven around in nice, new suburbans and four-runners by motor pool drivers all weekend, and shopping in our duty-free commissary and eating out in the poshest restaurants East Africa has to offer, and meeting the ambassador at an Easter Egg Hunt, they concluded that we’re experiencing the sanitized version of East Africa. And guess what?!?! I’ll take it! 🙂

Here we are at the embassy Easter Egg Hunt, posing with Obama, just minutes before the girls met the ambassador.

The embassy Easter Egg Hunt, posing with Obama, just minutes before the girls met the ambassador. The high life.

Here we are enjoying some of the spoils of Lake Tanganyika while Randy is referring to himself as a chic magnet.

Dinner on Lake Tanganyika with Randy, the chic magnet.

Pinnacle 19 beach, on Lake Tanganyika, complete with imported sand, but lovely just the same.

Pinnacle 19 beach, on Lake Tanganyika, complete with imported sand, but lovely just the same.

And that’s The Congo in the background, across the lake. The Congo, people. For real.

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Unfortunately, these are terrible pictures, but that's Avril, the one year old chimpanzee who was running around loose at Pinnacle 19 beach, just moments before she POOPED ALL OVER BROOKE'S ARM. I PROMISE I'M NOT EXAGGERATING.

Unfortunately, these are terrible pictures, but that’s Avril, the one year old chimpanzee who was running around loose at Pinnacle 19 beach, just moments before she POOPED ALL OVER BROOKE’S ARM. I PROMISE I’M NOT EXAGGERATING.

And so although the girls didn’t get to see any hippos, I think the chimp experience made up for it, maybe just a little. And they flipped a coin, and lucky for them, decided to fly back instead of returning the way they came, which gave us precious extra time together, so we could enjoy a peaceful Sunday morning, reading several accounts of the resurrection and enjoying Easter candy, straight from America.

By the time I put them on the plane, I was again exhausted, but very, very happy, and thankful for wonderful friends who’ll go to such great lengths to welcome us into our new home!

And there I’ll leave you hanging, wondering if I’ll have a better second week, and if I’ll even survive this crazy job, and the wild adventure.

Next up: pictures of the house, internet frustrations, the second work week, hippo photos, and how reality is standing up to those pre-recorded expectations. Until then, au revoir!

 

Nous sommes arrivee

Nous sommes arrivee. (If my memories of high school French serve me correctly, that’s “We have arrived.” Did I mention French is the official language in Burundi??)

Wheels Up Wheels Down The Final Chapter, for now, is complete! We have arrived in Bujumbura and are happily settling in. The final leg, from Brussels to our new home was smooth sailing (or flying, I guess, to be more correct). And Quandary seemed no worse for the miles.

Our first mistake upon arrival was to go into the regular immigration line.  I saw the VIP sign, but didn’t assume that applied to us. What I didn’t see was underneath the VIP: a sign for “Diplomats”. Oops. That applied to us. Ha. The only thing the dip passport got us the whole trip and I missed it.

But I can now say two of my life’s dreams have come true: someone else paid for me to fly on a plane, and someone picked me up at the airport holding my name on a placard. Boom.

It’s Not a Mud Hut

Since the very beginning of this escapade, Randy’s been telling everyone we’re going to live in a mud hut in Africa. I kept telling him it wasn’t the Peace Corp, and that I promised it wouldn’t be a mud hut, but he was having nothing of it. He could not be swayed.

After being picked up from the airport in two Toyota Land Cruisers, (and being greeted by Toni and Bruce Sonnenfeld from Denver–small world crazies!!), we were driven straight to our new home. It’s not a mud hut. In fact, it’s a beautiful, large home with all the comforts one could hope for and ever need, on lovely grounds with six different kinds of fruit trees, flowers in bloom, and an herb garden.

Here we are on the front porch, a little worse for wear and travel weary, but still smiling. 🙂 (I’d post pics of the fruit trees and flowers but it’s late and very dark out. More to come.)

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But it is Africa, and there surely will be things to get used to. Like the refrigerator is not in the kitchen. I mean, it’s in a little room off the kitchen, but clearly the designers of this house have never heard of the little triangle the fridge, stove, and sink are supposed to form in a well-designed kitchen.  And moments after we entered, Randy pointed high on the wall, and said, “Look, we have visitors already.” The geckos were there to greet us!

But along with said geckos were a refrigerator with a couple of meals and some luscious treats, thanks to several of our new co-workers. A really nice touch.

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It all seemed very civilized, and we were super thankful for the warm and friendly greeting.

Now here’s to sleep, and no jet lag and our new lives in Bujumbura!

Next up: ‘le weekend’ activities, and reports of our most challenging adjustments, but here’s at least a start to let you know we’re alive and well, and to stay true to my mission of recording first impressions.

Wheels Up Wheels Down Part 1

We made it to Brussels. The flight itself was uneventful–which is exactly what everyone always wants a flight to be. I watched Argo, which was tons of fun (I mean, how a propos)–recognizing the cameos of the HST building we had just left earlier in the day and remembering my opportunity to see other important buildings and thinking about being in an embassy (but hopefully not in those circumstances)–until Randy decided to watch it too, which just fueled his fire…oops. Bad call.

(If you haven’t already seen Argo, you can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argo_(2012_film))

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And to my PCSing colleagues, if your flight has the option to upgrade to Economy Plus (United) or its equivalent, I highly recommend it. It’s cheap and worth the four extra inches and the fancy way the seat reclines. We took a gamble and booked an aisle and a window hoping no one would upgrade to a middle seat, and won. I slept all night all stretched out on our three seats all to ourselves. Thanks for the tip, Missy and George!

The 24 hours leading up to the flight and the check-in process, however, was decidedly NOT uneventful. First of all, I left way too much to accomplish in the waning minutes–I don’t know how this happened–It’s never happened to me before. OK, maybe once. OK, maybe every time I ever have to pack anything and I experience the standard Stay Up All Night Packing and Organizing The Night Before A Trip; I did just that. In the end, my suitcases are a jumble of bleach and Easter candy next to my best suit and overweight to boot. Oh, well. Does anything ever change?

And then there was arrival at the airport.

(Warning: this is an elongated and elaborated version of my recent FB post for those who aren’t on FB.)

So after working very hard to make sure EVERYTHING was totally in order for Quandary to fly United’s PetSafe overseas, and reading EVERYTHING we could get our hands on, and asking EVERYONE EVERYTHING we needed to know to pull this off, we arrive and the ticket agent tells us that his kennel is not airline acceptable and it HAS to have holes on all four sides. This is the brand new kennel Randy purchased just for the flight–all airline certified and all, the same one he he had just flown from Denver to DC in…

So this is how it went down: the ticket agent kept saying things like “There is no way we can accept the dog for flight in this kennel” and “Do you want to go home and buy another kennel and try again tomorrow?” and “Do you want to try another airline?” and I kept saying things like “Are you kidding me?” and “May I speak to a supervisor?” (very diplomatically of course, without raising my voice or anything) and “Can I see that policy in writing?” All the while, Randy was silently checking his suitcase for his leatherman, which he located, and diligently cutting six holes in the back of the kennel. You can see his handiwork here:

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MacGyver wins.

If you look closely here, you can see Quandary all happy in his newly vented kennel, waiting to board. Those are the holes Randy cut in the back.

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And for all those who made smarty pants remarks about him having a blade in  the airport, this was at CHECK IN, PRE-SECURITY; it was in his CHECKED BAGS.

Needless to say, it was quite the scene. I can just imagine my three children reading this now. Megan is smiling and thinking how cool her parents are and is probably going to share the story with everyone. Ian is laughing his head off at the hilarity of it all and enjoying the story for all it’s worth. And Adam is sadly shaking his head, with equal parts pity, shame, and relief that he wasn’t there in the midst of it.

On the bright side, there was so much commotion during this two hour check-in debacle that they forgot to charge us their exorbitant excess and overweight baggage fees. Score. Saving the government money. I might get a medal of honor.

So after all that, as I said earlier, we arrived in Brussels, reunited with Quandary right there at baggage, took a VERY LARGE VAN taxi to our hotel with our four large suitcases, four carry ons and one large kennel, and were able to check in to our hotel at seven in the morning. Gotta love Europe. We slept until it was about seven AM body time, then headed out to explore my favorite city. First stop: beer at a sidewalk cafe, enjoying a beautiful sunny day. Depending on how you look at time–body time versus local time, I guess you could say we had beer for breakfast.

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Followed by moules and frites:

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Then a little exploring of Grand Place IMG_3501

and some of the other things Belgium is famous for besides moules, frites and beer:

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And of course, no visit is complete without the mandatory photo in front of Mannekin Pis

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Clay and Megan, we thought of you often with such fond memories of our first visit to this marvelous city, famous for beer, french fries, mussels, chocolate, waffles and an 18 inch high statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain. What’s not to love?

Before heading back to our hotel to crash for a good night’s sleep before our last long leg, we had a little dessert:

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Kwak, in its infamous round bottomed glass, in memory of my first ever beer in Belgium. Thanks for introducing me, Clay.

So in closing, a few tips for my soon-to-be PCSing colleagues:

  • Remain flexible (and creative). No matter how hard you try to be thoroughly prepared, things are bound to go awry. Keep calm and carry on.
  • Upgrade to Economy Plus if its an option.
  • If your flight is over 14 hours long, take the layover you’re eligible for. When else is someone going to pay for you to spend the night in a European (or wherever) hotel? We weren’t planning to, but in hindsight, we’re glad we did. I think we’ll arrive that less tired and jet-lagged. Plus the Kwak was delicious.
  • Even if the airlines tell you to arrive two hours ahead of time, three is not a bad idea. After our kennel-cutting check in fiasco, we arrived at our gate just as our plane was boarding. Go ahead, Randy. Gloat in your Always Arrive Ridiculously Early Policy. I’ll give it to you this time: it was a lifesaver.
  • Oh, and if possible, take along someone as resourceful as Randy. 🙂

Next stop: life in Bujumbura!

 

 

We’re. Moving. To. Africa.

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Hey, guys, we’re moving to Africa. No, I mean, like seriously. Like…TOMORROW. YIKES.

As proof that we’re for real:

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O. MY. GOSH. Remember when it was something out there in the future? Something we were just talking about. But, oh, no. We couldn’t be those people who just talk about it. NO. We had to be those people who actually DO IT. So we are. Tomorrow.

That is, if I can get my suitcases packed. Because the thing is, everything in this apartment has to GO or get thrown away. And you all know how I hate throwing things away. And you know how people (well, some people,) tend to collect things…

And you know I’ll probably find out I don’t need half of all I’m trying to pack:

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But seriously, it’s been a fantastic seventy days here in DC, and I have some great memories to take with me as I journey onward. The training has been overwhelming at times, but I’ve learned more in these two and a half months than I’ve learned in a very long time.

But as always, the best part of the experience has been the people. I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to spend loads of time with these guys:

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These are my great nephews (some of you may remember them from Camp Babette and the forgotten tent fame) and my great niece, and their nanny, Jacky. It’s been such a blessing to have this time with them and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. (Oh, and their parents, too.)

And even Megan got to get in on some of the fun during her weekend visit here!!

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And I’m so thankful to have spent every Sunday at Portico Church Arlington with Elizabeth and Nate Wagner. I’ll miss them terribly. I hate good-byes.

And a huge part of my time here in DC was spent with the other seventy-one members of the 132nd Foreign Service Specialists class. Since I am the first one of us to head out to post, many will be watching this space expectantly, watching and waiting to hear what it’s actually like to finally PCS!!! (State Department lingo for Permanent Change of Station–i.e., GET TO POST!!!) I’m planning to record some frequent shorts to capture the magic of first impressions, so stay tuned! (And sign up for email alerts on the right hand side of the page. If you did it before and aren’t receiving updates, try again. It wasn’t working properly before but is fixed now.)

And with that, I’ll bid you all a fond au revoir and see you all next time from the other side of the pond.

PS For those of you keeping score, I still haven’t recorded my very personal hopes and dreams post. Maybe next time…