Paris in December (with a baby)

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In December we met Nate in Paris for about 10 days. Our plan was to meet there and then travel together to the Midwest for Christmas with our families. Nate arrived a few hours before us on a Saturday morning, and once we exited customs we hopped in a taxi to our AirBnB apartment.

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Parisian buildings in the late afternoon sun

As you might imagine, there is lots of info on the internet about what to do in Paris. Museums, markets, shops, restaurants, etc. There is not, however, a lot of info about what to do when you’re there with a baby, especially one that is crawling around and starting to develop a sense of independence.

Never in a million years did I think I’d be writing so many baby-centric posts (yes, two is a lot as far as I’m concerned) and if you stop reading now I don’t blame you. I would have before I had a kid.

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Late winter sunlight makes for a lot of beautifully-lit photos. In this case, the Hotel de Ville.

That said, here are my tips for managing Paris with a baby:

  • You can find lots of good baby foods, like pouches, snacks and applesauce at the grocery store. But if your kid is addicted to peanut butter, bring it with you.  We found pouches with no added sugar that were really inexpensive and M loved them.  That beautiful Eiffel tour photo at the top? We asked a stranger to take a family portrait with that background, but M had a pouch that he would not let go of.  So instead of having a photo with a screaming baby, we have a photo with a brightly colored pouch reflecting the flash. Like I said, he loved those pouches.
  • Rent an apartment. M loved having the space to crawl around and explore, and each evening Nate played with him while I bought ingredients for dinner and a bottle of wine. We would eat lunch on-to-go or at a restaurant each day and then we’d eat dinner in our apartment.  It worked perfectly. Plus, everyone sleeps better when you have your own room, especially when you’re jet lagged. Our apartment was in the Marais near the Bastille metro stop, and the location was amazing. We could walk just about anywhere, and the metro and bus were really convenient. We were near a farmers market on Sundays and there were wine shops, produce markets, grocery stores, patisseries and boulangeries all close by. Having an apartment (and therefore a fridge) also means you can buy all the cheese you want .
Most of these ended up in our apartment fridge

Most of these ended up in our apartment fridge

Each night we tried a new bottle of wine with dinner in our apartment. Our favorite was the Bordeaux in the green bottle towards the middle.

Each night we tried a new bottle of wine with dinner in our apartment. Our favorite was the Bordeaux in the green bottle towards the middle.

  • You can let your baby crawl around at the Petit Palais (free admission) and in parts of the Musee d’Orsay. You can not let your baby crawl around in the War Museum. We let M crawl around the exhibits at the uncrowded Petit Palais, and when a museum employee came walking by I thought she was going to yell at us, but instead she smiled and waved at M. At the War Museum we did get yelled at. In the Musee d’Orsay there’s a kind of lounge area by the impressionist wing with big leather chair things and a huge clock. It’s also by the gift shop where there are lots of neat things. The gift shop by the impressionist wing is better than the gift shop on the main level.
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Big clock, tiny baby at Musee d’Orsay

  • You can find nice free bathrooms at department stores and at the Petit Palais. I’m sure there are other places too, but these came in handy for us.
  • You can take your stroller into the Louvre and the Orsay.  You can not take your stroller into the Orangerie or the buildings in the Versailles complex. A word on strollers in the Louvre: finding functioning elevators that take you where you want to go is HELL. Seriously, it was bad. The problem was that it looked simple, and each time we thought we were just one elevator ride away from where we needed to be. So we never folded up the stroller and carried him because it was always “just five more minutes.” This went on for over an hour. At the Orangerie, we entered with our stroller and then we checked it and they gave us a small stroller to use. Another note about the Orangerie: if you are taking photos with a DSLR camera and your flash is turned off (as it should be), you still might have a light that flashes when your camera is focusing.  Turn this light off or a museum employee will give you a talking-to. For Versailles, I’d recommend bringing a baby carrier along with your stroller. But don’t bring a hiking pack because you can’t take that into the buildings either. You have to check your stroller when you enter the either of the Trianon buildings or the chateau. You can use your stroller in the gardens, including the area between the Trianon buildings and Marie Antionette’s hamlet. However, make sure it’s an all-terrain stroller because it’s rocky, sandy and uneven in parts. Whew, that was way longer than expected.
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We got lost in the Louvre trying to find elevators. Luckily we stumbled across a small window with this lovely view.

  • Babies love art museums. All the big colorful paintings, statues and sculptures are fascinating to tiny humans. Even more so if you take the time to point out the animals. But expect the fascination to last for a limited amount of time.
  • There are farm animals in Marie Antoinette’s hamlet at Versailles.  M could have spent hours there, and wow did he scream when we left. I felt kind of bad because this was one of the first things we did that he enjoyed, and our time there was sadly limited. We let him walk along the fence line and try to feed dead leaves the animals.  He had so much fun.
  • Go out for a late lunch. You’re in Paris, so obviously you want to eat the wonderful French food.  With a baby, the best time to do this is lunch.  It’s less romantic than dinner, so you’re not ruining it for anyone else if you have a fussy baby. We’d eat lunch around 1:30 or so, towards the end of the lunch rush. Restaurants were less crowded, which is important since hardly anywhere has high chairs and there is more room to stash the stroller. On a related note…
  • L’ Esmeralda by Notre Dame and Cafe du Marche on Rue Cler have high chairs. L’Esmeralda seems to have mixed reviews, but we enjoyed it and for a restaurant right by a seriously touristy place like Notre Dame, the food was genuinely good and not expensive. I could have eaten at Cafe du Marche every day. That place was awesome. I’m sure there are lots of other restaurants in Paris with high chairs, but these were ones that we found easily that served us well.
  • If you have a stroller, the metro is a pain in the butt.  Lots of stairs and no escalators or elevators. The bus system is really easy and takes you everywhere you’d want to go.

Also, a few notes about Paris in December:

  • It’s amazing, do it!!! It never got that cold (it was generally in the 40s), and we only had a few hours of light drizzle one day. The crowds are less, and there was hardly anyone at Versailles when we went.  Granted some of the statues were covered, the fountains were turned off, and parts of the gardens were closed, but there were only 20 other people in the Hall of Mirrors.  It was incredible.
  • You can get mulled wine in the street and raw oysters. I remember walking around by Notre Dame looking at the Christmas lights and watching all the people our first afternoon there with a cup of mulled wine in hand, never ever wanting to leave. And we ate so many raw oysters at the farmers market. It was awesome.
  • The Christmas Market on Champs-Elysees was kind of a bust. Most of the stalls were selling stuff you could find just about anywhere. Although there were a lot of stalls selling good mulled wine.
  • You can find good Christmas decor and ornaments at the garden and flower market near Sainte Chappelle. Plus, you can easily do all of your Christmas shopping in Paris.  You’ll come home and you won’t need to worry about it!
  • You don’t get the harsh summer sunlight in your photos and nearly everything has perfect lighting. 

Okay, I think that’s it. I’ve got other posts in the works for our other trips we’ve taken (I’m working on focusing on the good things that have happened over the past year).

Oh, I should add that Nate sat with M for the return flight and I sat by myself on the other side of the plane and it was amazing.  I watched movies, napped, raised and lowered my tray table and window shade when I wanted, and sipped my drinks as slowly as I wanted. I will never again understand people when they say “OMG I have this super-long 10 hour flight. Whatever am I going to do with myself?” Um, you can do whatever the hell you want, dude. You’re by yourself.

Pura Vida

A few weeks ago we met up with Nate in Costa Rica.  He had one last R&R and we wanted to go someplace with a beach, but no super-long plane rides, in the same timezone as the Midwest, and Costa Rica fit the bill perfectly.

Dude, Costa Rica is AMAZING. We were in and out of the airport in less than an hour, and it was so easy to drive around and explore. We had a fricking awesome time, even though M got some stomach bug and we spent the first several days cooped up in our beach house. Thank god we had a washing machine and dryer. But this was our view, so even that wasn’t too bad.

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The view from our front porch: coconut trees and the Pacific

The house we rented was about 30 minutes west of Quepos, along the Pacific Coast.  We spent the whole time in that area, exploring literally everything the guidebook had to offer. Here are some of our favorite things we did.

Marino Ballena National Park: This is a beautiful national park with uncrowded pristine beaches. The majority of the area protected by the park is aquatic, which is pretty cool. There are several different beaches, and our favorite was Playa Pinuelas.  It was slightly protected from the open ocean so the waves weren’t too big, and we could drive up to the beach, so we brought beach chairs, sand toys, etc.

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Playa Uvita at Marino Ballena

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Playa Pinuelas

Cascada Nauyaca: You can hike or take a horseback riding tour to this waterfall.  We hiked, and it really wasn’t too bad.  It was 5 miles roundtrip, and we were lucky on the way up because it got cloudy just as we were hiking a long section with no shade. It was nice to have hiked there on our own rather than going with a group because we could stay as long as we wanted.  It was so amazing and the cold water felt awesome. I would avoid doing the hike during the rainy season because you’re either going uphill or downhill at least 90% of the time and the trail would be a muddy slip-n-slide.

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Nauyaca waterfall

Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary: This sanctuary on a mountainside provides medical care and rehabilitation for wild animals that are injured, taken out of private homes where they were pets (the law prohibits keeping animals other than dogs or cats as pets in Costa Rica), or are somehow unable to keep living in the wild.  We toured the sanctuary and saw the animals they weren’t able to release back into the wild for one reason or another.  They do an amazing job caring for the animals, and the tour was really interesting.  Afterward we had cocktails and enjoyed the view.  It was a great way to spend a few hours, and M really loved watching the animals, especially the monkeys.  The monkeys were cute and definitely interesting.  One of them kept hurdling rocks at the cage and another was on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.

The view from the sanctuary/hotel patio

The view from the sanctuary/hotel patio

Manuel Antonio National Park: This park is beautiful, there is tons of wildlife, and the beaches are ridiculously picturesque.  For all these reasons, there are also lots of people. The park does limit the number of people allowed in each day and you can avoid the crowds if you get off the main paved trail that runs through the park. We packed sandwiches and went in with the idea of hiking the trails and then going to the beach, enjoying whatever wildlife we happened to spot along the way. This worked out well.  We saw lots of tour groups crowded around a telescope or with binoculars, and there was no way M would have had the patience to literally stand around and wait for a butterfly to open its wings. Frankly I don’t think I had the patience for that either given how hot and humid it was. We saw lots of monkeys, a sloth, raccoons, a deer, and coatis.

Manuel Antonio beach was very popular and the water was quiet

Manuel Antonio beach was very popular and the water was quiet.

The raccoons were out of control. They would dig through unattended bags looking for food, and Nate watched 3 raccoons and a coati duke it out over a sandwich

The raccoons were out of control. They would dig through unattended bags looking for food, and Nate watched 3 raccoons and a coati duke it out over a sandwich

Sunsets and cocktails at the beach: Each evening after we got back from our daily excursion, I’d make a cocktail and sit on beach and read. Nate and M would play in the sand and have fun, and it was glorious.  The sunsets from our beach were stunning.

One of the many sunset photos. I haven't even edited this!

One of the many sunset photos. I haven’t even edited this!

Other things we enjoyed were Hacienda Baru (nice hiking paths and lots of wildlife), Cascada Verde (nice little waterfall that you can slide down with lots of shallow pools; follow the signs from Uvita and stop right before the security camera signs where there is parking on the right), and exploring restaurants along the coast. Our favorite was Por Que No? in Dominicalito. It reminded me of The Village in Pohnpei. We loved everything about this place.

We avoided Quepos and the Manuel Antonio area. Both were completely crowded shit-shows.

Here are some general tips for Costa Rica (keeping in mind that we only explored one small area of the country and I’m not an expert):

  • Rent an SUV. And know that you’re going to have to pay for car insurance. Unless you’re sticking to paved highways, you’ll probably encounter seriously steep unpaved roads. As for the car insurance, this was a shocker for us. Our seemingly cheap rental car suddenly cost over $600 for two weeks. Luckily they upgraded us to an SUV for free.
  • Bring sun screen, bug spray and reusable water bottles. Sun screen and bug spray are expensive and tap water is generally drinkable.
  • Buy a SIM card by the baggage claim in the airport.  They cost $20 each and include two gigabytes of data.  We had either 3G or 4G almost everywhere we went. Our hotel was near the airport, but the car rental shuttle took us to a facility in the middle of nowhere.  We would not have been able to find our hotel without those handy SIM cards and google maps.
  • Buy alcohol in the duty free by the baggage claim. There didn’t seem to be a limit and it was much cheaper than what you can find in stores.

180 days later

When a post goes into departure status, whether it’s authorized or ordered, the departure can only last for 180 days.  After those 180 days are up, things either go back to how they were and everyone goes back, or post becomes some kind of unaccompanied.  In the case of Dhaka, it’s now partially accompanied with working EFMs only.

So, we aren’t going back.

M is doing fine, thriving, actually; I’m muddling through.

We saw Nate for 19 days in December over Christmas and it was amazing.  M immediately recognized him, probably due to FaceTime. We spent a magical 10 days in Paris and then celebrated Christmas with our families here in the good ole snowy Midwest. The time went by way too quickly and even though Nate only left in the end of December, it feels like so much more than that.

Hopefully the next three months will go by as quickly as December did.  Hey, it’s almost the end of January already!  Hurray for that. I’ll keep drowning my sorrows in wine and venison bacon (seriously, I just ate 4 pieces), and M will keep touching my iPhone screen and saying “Dada.”

Eventually this shit will all be over and we’ll be a complete family again.

Tips for air travel with a baby

Next week M and I are heading out on our second trans-oceanic flight just the two of us. (No, we are not going back to Dhaka.) And, I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly looking forward to it.  He’s getting more mobile and he’s definitely not as easy to fly with as he was when he didn’t move, basically only needed milk and diaper changes, and would just sleep the entire time.

M and I have flown a lot together, and several people have asked me if I have any tips for flying with a baby.  While my general parenting style is to wing it because I usually have no idea what the hell I’m doing, I do actually have some advice to give on baby air travel.

Always get a window seat!  You have more space and both of you are less likely to get whacked by baggage or a beverage cart.

Always get a window seat. You have more space and both of you are less likely to get whacked by baggage or a beverage cart.

Pack more diapers than you think you’ll need in your carry-on.  Delays, lost luggage, super nasty dumps and all sorts of unfortunate things can happen.  While you’re at it, also pack extra outfits for both of you.  I’ve never needed them, but I’m pretty sure the day I don’t pack extra clothes will be the day M gets bodily fluid all over both of us. As Scar says, “Be prepared!”

You can break the four ounce liquid rule when traveling with a baby.  So bring food pouches, leave water in the sippy cup, and pack what you need to keep your baby happy.

Dress your baby in cute clothes. People are more inclined to like babies that look adorable.

Wear shoes you can take off/put on with no hands or one hand. In case you have to hold your baby and take your shoes off or put them on.

When people offer to help you, always say “yes.” This may mean a stranger holds your baby for a few seconds and that’s okay. They’re offering to help because they think you need it, and, speaking from experience, you probably do.

Don’t be afraid to ask a complete stranger for help. Once I asked an older gentleman if he could hold M for a minute while I untangled the folded stroller and diaper bag. Another time I asked a man (the pilot, it turned out) if he could hold M while I, yet again, untangled the darn stroller.  After he handed M back to me he showed me a picture of his toddler.  Generally, people want to help you. Put your pride aside and be reminded of the kindness of complete strangers.

Also, know how to fold and unfold your stroller with one hand.

You can wear your baby through security without removing him/her from the carrier.  You’ll get a pat-down but they can’t make you take off your Ergo, wrap, etc.

Don’t apologize.  You’re traveling with a baby: you’re not doing anything wrong. If anyone actually has the gall to say something rude to you (this has never happened to me but it’s good to be prepared), you can remind them that at they were once a baby and they probably annoyed people too.

Don’t bring toys on the plane that could roll away.  So, no balls and invest in triangular crayons.

If possible, buy a seat for your baby. We do this for long flights (4+ hours) and everyone sleeps better.  A note about airline bassinets: they are usually located under a screen in the bulkhead area.  So keep this in mind if you think your baby won’t be able to sleep with a light-emitting, potentially interesting screen directly overhead.

No matter how terrible it is, the time will pass.  Hopefully your baby will sleep the whole time and crying will be minimal.  But if this isn’t the case, time will march on, albeit slowly, and the flight will eventually be over.  And, when the going gets rough, hopefully you’re on an international flight where the booze are free.  No judgement. You’ll probably never see your fellow travelers again anyways.

Authorized Departure

This is a blog about life in the Foreign Service and to gloss over the bad parts would be unfair.  Yes, there are parties, nannies, and amazing friends, but there’s also terrorism, sheltering in place, and unexpected separation.

M and I are back in the U.S.  The State Department authorized the departure of EFMs from Dhaka shortly after the terrorist attack at Holey Bakery. We left in July, and who knows if we’ll get to go back to Dhaka. I really hope so, but frankly I’ll be surprised if we set foot in the apartment we worked so hard to make our home ever again.

It’s been nice to spend this time with family and to watch M learn to love our families so intensely.  Plus he’s getting to eat corn on the cob, rip up brightly colored fall leaves, play in the Great Lakes, go camping, and do other fun stuff.

We FaceTime with Nate and Athena every day, but this separation is taking a toll on everyone.  It fucking sucks. There’s not really much else to say about it.

So I’ll finish with a word to the wise: no matter how hot the climate of your next post, make sure you take your winter clothes because you never know what could happen.

News!

This past month has been pretty awesome.  We went on our first R&R, which was a much-needed and thoroughly enjoyed four-week break from Dhaka.  And we found out where we are headed for our next post: MUSCAT, OMAN!

The first time I heard of Muscat, I was like, “Isn’t that a kind of wine?”  I had no idea it was a capital city, much less the capital city of a country I didn’t even really know existed. Oman isn’t in the news very much and I’ve never really bragged about my Middle Eastern geographical knowledge.  Thank goodness for Google.

After spending a lot of time on the internet and talking to as many people as we could about our decision to rank Muscat highly on our bid list, we are really happy we got one of our top choices. Yes, Oman is a conservative country (but not as conservative as, for instance, Saudi Arabia) and it’s really hot for a lot of the year, but Muscat is right on the water, outdoor activities abound, there’s hardly any crime, and the climate is apparently perfect four months out of the year. And there are not tons of people and cars everywhere, we’ll be able to travel through the country, we could drive to Dubai, and there is hardly any air pollution!  We’ll be able to go camping on the beach, snorkeling, explore the dessert, and take Athena for walks outside again.  Even she’ll be able to go swimming in the Gulf. People other than our parents want to come and visit us!

I’m sure there will be challenges and difficulties that I can’t foresee.  God only knows there were/are plenty here in Dhaka.  But for now we are pretty fricking excited!

Almost a year in

I can’t believe we’ve been here almost a year.  What a time it has been.

The other day a good friend pointed out to me that I haven’t been blogging lately.  It’s hard to blog when things are “meh.” I wrote a post on our recent trip to Kuala Lumpur (which was so much fun) and then the pictures wouldn’t load onto WordPress, so I gave up on publishing it.  But things have been happening around here, and life goes on.

A few weeks ago there was a craft bazaar at the Canadian High Commission.  One of the vendors had this massive etched brass plate with elephants and stuff on it, and when I asked the price he quoted me something outrageous. So I asked where his shop was, figuring I could go see the plate there and maybe get a better price.  I went a few days ago, and there, again, was the plate.  I asked how much it cost, and the price did indeed come down significantly.  He told me it was 450 years old and from the Mughal era.  If that’s not a dubious claim, I don’t know what is.  It looks old, but not that old.  Who knows, maybe it’s new and they buried it in some dirt to make it look old. I told Nate it’s supposedly a Mughal plate, and he said that would make us archeological artifact smugglers if we bought it, assuming it is indeed that old.  I got the shopkeeper to come down to what I consider a reasonable price for a big metal plate with an interesting design of unknown age/origin, so we’ll see what happens.

The ayah has started giving me unsolicited directions on child-rearing.  We started feeding M solid foods when he turned six months old, and we’d been giving him purees for breakfast and dinner.  The other day, around noon, I was holding M with one hand and peeling a banana with the other.  M was lurching towards the banana, clearly very interesting.  The ayah saw this, and said, “You give him breakfast and dinner.  Why no lunch?”  So now M gets lunch too, which I suppose was bound to happen eventually anyway since most people do, in fact, eat lunch.  One night Nate and I came home around 7:30 and M was already in his pjs.  She said “He needs milk and then he goes to sleep.”  Yes m’am.

Our apartment is long and narrow, and all the windows on the long side border a single family home, the yard of which we can see into easily. One night we heard tons of barking and it turned out they’d gotten a dog.  A large, full-grown dalmatian, to be exact. During the day they chained it up to this covered area in the front yard, and the chain was maybe 4 feet long.  The dog barked like mad pretty much all day long, and Athena was in a perpetual tizzy.  They gave the dog food and water, and their gardener touched it with a long stick every time he went near it, but thankfully we never saw anyone be mean to the dog.  And he treated the stick like a toy/scratching pole.  Then after about four days of non-stop barking, everything was quiet and the dog was gone.  In fact, it now looks like the dog was never even there.  No chain, no water dish, nothing.  Who knows where the dog went, but Nate and I have decided that they had a weekend visitor that insisted on bringing their dog with them.  It’s the most reasonable and humane explanation we could think of.

Oh, one of my toenails fell off.  I’m almost 100% certain it’s because of a bad pedicure from La Femme. I’ve never lost a toenail before, even with marathon training, so this is uncharted territory.  I’m just glad it never got infected.  That’s Dhaka for you… even my toenails are like “What the fuck.”

Now I’m going to figure out how to finally get the pictures into the Kuala Lumpur post!

Keeping on keeping on

I wrote this post about a week ago.  There is an ebb and flow of “things are fine” and “things suck, when are we leaving.”  While I try to stay on the “things are fine” side of life, it’s not always possible. Things are fine now, but I’m still going to press “publish.”  The security situation here has made things difficult, and this is one of the challenging realities of life in Dhaka.  Anyway, here you go.

We have been here for 10 months now.  Time is flying, and I’m thankful for that.

Life in Dhaka hasn’t been easy lately for me.  I am an outdoorsy person, and I feel like here the most outdoor exposure is getting into the car and back out again.  And it really sucks.

When we were initially looking at the bid list before coming here, there were all these places that we ranked low because we wouldn’t be able to go out and do much.  Now, all those places, like Saudi Arabia, seem like they’d be wonderful because, while we’d be living on a large compound, at least we’d be able to walk around the compound.  Here I can’t even walk out the front gate of my apartment building.  There’s a beautiful park a few blocks away with a playground, and M will never get to play there.  Heck, he might never even get to actually set foot on an unguarded road here.

The other day I was daydreaming about what it would be like to be able to walk on the streets here, and I was thinking about taking M and Athena for a walk together.  I started wondering whether it would be best to put him in his Ergo carrier, or to put him in the stroller.  If I put him in the Ergo and someone shoots at me, then he could get shot too.  So maybe the stroller would be best.  But people here drive like maniacs and what if his stroller got hit by a car?  I mentioned all this to Nate, and he said that tactically the Ergo would be best so that we could more easily escape from a dangerous situation.  And you know the really sad part?  I am not worrying about crazy scenarios that could never happen.  These are actual possibilities.

If anyone had ever told me I’d be seriously mulling over things like this I’d have told them they were bat-shit insane.

Things aren’t really that bad, but sometimes the bad overpowers the good.

Athena’s new bestie

The other day Nate pointed out to me that this blog is called “According to Athena,” and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you all about Athena’s new friend.

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About a month ago Athena met a new dog in the field that we frequent and now they are best friends.  I mean, cuddling together, lazy wrestling, just wanting to be near each other best friends.  I actually haven’t seen her get along this well with another dog in years.  Not since her soul mate, Lincoln, moved away when we lived in Alexandria.

One day Athena’s friend followed us out of the field and to the car, and our driver asked what her name was.  I said, “I don’t know.  Brown Dog?”  So now we call her Brown Dog.

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The really surprising part is that Brown Dog is also a female.  Athena is an alpha female, and most of the females here pretty much hate her.  Little do they know she’s not exactly giving them any competition, if you know what I mean.

Lately Brown Dog has been in the field almost every day, and when Athena arrives, she prances around looking for her.  I feel like Athena’s life isn’t as fun as it used to be since we can’t take her for walks anymore, so it makes me happy to see Athena having a good time!

Letters from Moldova

Last week marked the 55th anniversary of Peace Corps. Nate and I met as Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova, where I served from 2005 to 2007. Earlier today I was combing through my inbox trying to find information on what exactly I did during my PC tenure and I stumbled across emails I’d written, giving periodic updates to family and friends back in the U.S.

These emails were a serious blast from the past, and I’ve copied and pasted some of my favorite snippets below.  I edited them for privacy; otherwise they are 100% as-written by my 22 or 23 year-old self.

June 21, 2005

On Saturday I told Valeria (training village host mom) that I wanted to do my laundry and asked her if she could show me how.  She said she would after we both took naps, but then she called her friend Galina that has an automatic washing machine, so we hiked about 1.5 miles to her house, dirty laundry in hand.  We were there for about 3.5 hours and I spoke so much Romanian that I got home and my brain honestly hurt.  They asked me so many questions, and the father tried to open the way for some political discussions, but I didn’t feel that my language or cultural knowledge was quite up to par for that door to be opened.  They’ve invited me over any time i want to do my laundry, which is tempting
since i’ve heard that it takes like 5 hours to wash by hand.

August 26, 2005

We met the president of the region a couple of days ago, and he gladly showed us the picture of himself with Stalin… it’s always fun to see those relics from the Soviet era.  In Budapest they’ve taken all the statues, etc from the Soviet era and they put them in a park
outside the city so that they can move forward without being reminded daily of the USSR, but here in Moldova things are a little different. They still have all the Soviet statues all over Chisinau, and sometimes you feel like you’ve died and gone to Russia.  But I guess that’s one of the things that just makes life here that much more interesting.

September 13, 2005

On Saturday I went to Balti (the “capitol of the north”), and I must have eaten something funky because on Sunday I felt awful all day and I had a fever… Valentina (host mom) got back from Chisinau, where she’s been for a Peace Corps host family conference, and she was 100% convinced that I was sick because I’d been exposed to wind on the bus ride to or from Balti.  I told her I thought it might have been something I ate, and she told me very adamantly that eating bad food can’t cause a fever– it was definitely the wind.  Right.  Later, after I told her that there was no wind on the rutiera and she gave me the 3rd degree about what else I’d done, she reneged and decided that I must have eaten too many grapes.  That is why I’m NEVER EVER going to a hospital here.

October 4, 2005

A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed to start an after-school activity, so at my school we now have Frisbee Club!  There were probably over 40 kids at the first meeting, and I found out that they boys were there because they thought they’d be learning how to play “futbol american.”  They were a little upset when they found out that neither that week nor the next week nor ever would I be teaching American football, so there were only girls at our 2nd meeting, but I still had about 20 kids and they had fun.  I’m still a little perplexed about where the idea of American football came from, but I explained that I don’t have a football, I don’t understand how the game works, and I don’t really even like football all that much (sorry, Dad).

December 11, 2005

Back in November I went to a weekend seminar in Soroca (northwest Moldova, very pretty) that was organized by Moldovans and for Moldovans about organizational development and institutional consolidation.  Since the whole thing was in Romanian, and I was the only American, I didn’t really grasp the institutional consolidation part, but it was still useful.  Before I left, my vice director told me to make sure that I bring lots of warm clothes because she’d been at the hotel where they were having the seminar the day before, and she said it was very cold.  So, I packed my long underwear and my polarfleece, figuring that they’d turn on the heat, but I should pack on the safe side just in case.  Turns out, the hotel doesn’t have heat, hot water, or anything at all that gives off warmth.  More interestingly, this is because Soroca doesn’t even have gas, which means that ALL heating is done by sobas (wood/coal fires that heat up walls and usually provide enough heat for maybe 3 rooms).  Soroca is supposed to be one of the nicest cities in Moldova, partially because it gets a lot of tourists and it’s were all the really rich gypsies live.  And you’d think that they wouldn’t want to hold a seminar someplace that is uncomfortably cold.  It’s a little vexing how things in Moldova works at times, but I’ve almost gotten used to it.  Anyhow, it’s really a pretty city, since it’s right on the Nistru river and you can practically reach out and pet the Ukraine.  I woke up early and went for a walk, and there was still frost on the ground, the sun was rising over Ukraine, the were old men out fishing… it was really nice, and I got warm 🙂

January 21, 2006

For the Orthodox Christmas (jan. 7) I went to visit my Pre-Service Training host family.  It’s always nice to go back there, since I feel like I’m part of the family and they’re always SOOO happy to see me.  We all woke up bright and early on the 7th and headed over to their friend Galina’s house.  (As a side note, Galina’s 19 yr old daughter got married in November and she’s going to have a baby in the spring, and she’s in her first year of medical school.  Here they start medical school straight out of high school, and skip the traditional university… a little crazy, I think)  We were at Galina’s until maybe 1 pm, and then we went to my host dad’s mom’s, and then to my host mom’s mom’s house.  At every house you go to, they lay out a table with TONS of food, and you’re being rude if you don’t eat.  After stopping at home for maybe an hour, which is just enough time to feed the animals, we went to someone else’s house and ate more.  Then I (naively) assumed we were walking home, since it was 11:30 pm, but we went to yet another house, where they expected us to eat even more.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in one day in my whole life… but it was a fun day, and it was nice to see people that I haven’t seen since PST.

January 26, 2006

I thought you might want an update, even though I just sent out an email, since the situation here is really kind of laughable.  Well, not really since it’s been so cold, but it’s definitely crazy.  It’s been around -26 degrees Celsius, which is -15 degrees Fahrenheit… school has been cancelled this whole week by the Ministry of Education because it’s been so cold.  Most schools are well-heated, but the kids freeze on the walk to school at 8 a.m.  Moldovans seem to be worried mostly about their kidneys getting cold… I don’t know about that, so I usually just nod.  The pipes have frozen at my house, so we have no running water.  The water in the pipes that run to the radiators has also frozen, which means no heat.  I’m glad I have my Peace Corps heater, because otherwise I would freeze.  So basically I just spend all day wearing LOTS of polar fleece, a hat, and lying in my down sleeping bag, with it pulled up to my chin.  When I leave my room, I bundle up like I’m going outside… The count-down to summer has definitely begun.

March 2, 2006

Last week, I was lying in bed reading and my host mom burst into my room, telling me that Olgutsa is in a concert at school, and if I leave now I’ll get there in time.  I can only handle so much time spent reading in bed before I really start to wish I had something
else to do, so I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity.  I threw on my boots and tromped through the muddy short-cut to school, and found the concert in the third grade class room.  I was wondering what the occasion of the concert was, and it turned out that they’d selected a completely random day of the year and named it “Bread Day.” They said poems about bread, sang some songs about bread, and then there was a little song-and-dance routine completely unrelated to bread.  There were also 2 old ladies dressed up in the traditional garb with LOTS of bread products.  They explained all the different shapes of the bread, the different kinds of bread, and their religious/cultural meaning.  It was actually kind of interesting, and we concluded the event by dancing the hora (not so sure on the spelling of that) around the classroom.  Then once the kids left the teachers broke out the house wine and dug into the bread products.  By the time I went home, I’d eaten enough bread to last for a month, and i still had a plastic bag full of bread baked into the form of little birds.  It’s the little surprises like “Bread Day” that make me smile, shake my head, and appreciate Moldova for how hard they really do try.

May 4, 2006

Easter here was on April 23rd, and it is quite the celebration because it is the end of Lent.  Here everyone does Lent, except it’s called “post” and if you do post, you can’t eat any meat or other animal products.  My host parents were both doing post, which meant the rest of us were too, and by the end all of us were pretty hungry for meat.  The week before Easter is spent cleaning the house, and just about everything else, and starting to prepare the food.  Then on Easter Eve everyone goes to the church starting around 10 pm, lays out their bread and eggs, and stays outside (and awake) all night.  The priest comes out at sunrise, does a little church service, blesses all the food, and everyone packs up and goes home.  I’d heard that it was an interesting site to see, so I woke up at 5 a.m. and walked over to the church….. it was incredible.  There were hundreds and hundreds of people and they were all holding candles and there were candles in the food and everything was lit up.  I got there right as the priest came out, and one of my students gave me a candle and invited me stand with her family (mine was asleep and didn’t wake up) and it was one of the coolest things i’d ever seen.  the priest came along with the holy water, and he splashed everyone.  it was fun since you could tell he was having a good time with it, since he’s splash people and then he’d act like he was going to splash the next group of people, but instead he’d turn around and nail people he’d already splashed.  After the festivities i went home and slept some more, and then I went for a walk later in the morning.  At my last language IST, my teacher talked about how on Easter (and up to a month after it) people great each other with “Christ has risen” and then you say “Indeed, Christ has risen” back instead of the traditional “good day.”  To me, this seemed a little overly-religious, and I don’t consider myself to be a very religious person in the first place, plus, i’m not Moldovan, so I thought maybe I’d be exempt from this one.  Nope.  I’d say “good day” to someone and they’d say “christ has risen” back, and i started to feel like a moron.  so about 10 minutes into my walk I started greeting everyone with “Christ has risen” and then they’d reply like they were supposed to.