How are you doing?

A Red Southern Bishop at Avis Dam. The wildlife in Namibia is interesting even though we can’t go anywhere, so here are some photos of some of the most commonly-seen animals around Windhoek!

No, really. How are you doing?

I hope you’re at least doing alright. The world is a crazy place right now, and this is a hard time.

We are okay / doing the best we can / muddling through / taking it day by day.

Some days are better than others. I’d say I’m better now than I was in the earlier days of our lockdown, mostly because I’ve figured out how to manage myself more effectively.*

I feel like I’m getting the hang of the whole working remotely thing. It’s all about accepting the imperfect/less-than-ideal and just going with the flow. We set up M’s art station next to my standing desk and sometimes he’ll sit down there and say he has work to do. Also I am totally at peace with his screen time amount. We both still have a lot of work to do and if watching Disney+ or playing a game on his kindle keeps him occupied while we’re both on calls, that’s just fine.

Lovebirds in the neighborhood

We spend most of the our weekends outside in our yard, watching movies, cooking more-time-consuming-than-normal food, or playing Gloomhaven.

I’ve enjoyed having time to dust off some cookbooks and try new dishes, or to finally cook the things in my NYT Cooking recipe box. Here are some of our favorite new recipes:

Gloomhaven is an awesome board game that we got last year when we had several Amazon gift cards lying around. We first tried to play it shortly after arriving in Windhoek when we were jet lagged and tired. It was such an extraordinarily confusing experience, we put it back in the cupboard and didn’t even think about playing it again until now. We figured that we’d have the time to finally sort through everything and we were right! It’s really fun, interesting, and it’s nice to currently have four days (we are at the end of a four-day holiday weekend) to work our way through it. There are like 95 different scenarios, and each scenario is its own game. They all build off each other, but you can just play one scenario and then put everything away; you don’t have to play the entire thing all at once.

Artie the Explorer!

I have never in my life been so grateful to have a dog. Artie has been a lifeline for all of us lately. Her persistent optimism, playfulness and happy demeanor give us all something to look forward to and she helps keep us busy. And she is M’s only non-adult companion right now. It’s hilarious watching them run around chasing each other. She is a saint.

So, yeah. That’s how we’re doing. Not great, not bad, basically fair-to-middling.

*This is basically through focusing on things that I can control and having “good” habits like reading books, walking Artie, making the bed, doing yoga, etc. Then I track it all. It helps me feel more intentional and productive.

Dassies, or rock hyraxes. The elephants’ closest relative!

Something not COVID-19

A rainbow over a Windhoek hillside

I started writing this blog post and before I knew it, I had written several paragraphs about COVID-19. (That is now a separate blog post) And that is not what I want to write about. It’s clearly what’s on my mind, but there are other things in the world besides COVID-19 and those are the things I want to focus on.

Deep exhale. Anyway.

About a month ago, before Namibia reported the first cases of COVID-19, our  friends hosted a precision rifle shooting competition on their farm. That particular weekend happened to coincide with several days of massive downpours. The road to the farm crosses several dry riverbeds, and when we drove out on Friday evening, those riverbeds were no longer dry. In fact, one of them was actually a river. With rapids. We put our bakkie in 4WD and took it slowly. On a normal day, the drive takes an hour. This time it took us an hour and a half. Needless to say, we were very happy the drive was finished once we finally reached the farmhouse.

Farmland full of mud, flowers, green branches, and puddles

We brought Artie with us to the farm and my god did she love the farm dog life. She’s such a pack animal. She loved having children falling all over her, exploring the property, and swimming in the river; she preferred to eat her dog food with our friends’ dog, rather than eating alone; and she ran behind the bakkie for several kilometers like a champ. Maybe she was a farm dog before the SPCA picked her up off the streets. Who knows.

Surveying the territory

Something else we learned about that weekend is the koringkrieke or the amoured bush cricket. Good grief, is this insect gnarly. First, they are enormous. Like, if there’s one in the road you can actually see it. Its body is the size of my thumb; add the legs and it’s about the size of my palm.  Second: they bite. They’re omnivorous cannibals. Seriously. Lastly, they are everywhere. Like, in disgusting quantities. I saw one in a small bush, and then I looked closer and realized there were actually at least 14 of them. So gross. I should do a blog post on the insects we’ve encountered in Namibia. There have been some good ones!

A disgusting armored bush cricket

Another common southern African insect: the harmless but creepy chilongo

The rainy season here is almost over. I love how happy people get here when it rains. In Oman, almost everyone feared rain. Schools closed, everything flooded and life ground to a halt. Heck, I was almost in a terrible car accident because drivers there don’t know how to handle wet roads. But here in Namibia, after one of the worst droughts in history, rain is cause for joy and celebration. I’m just glad it brings some moisture to the air. It’s amazing seeing how much the terrain has changed since we arrived last September versus now. The hillside across from our house is green, we have plants that we thought were dead growing in our yard, and there are wild flowers blossoming. Oh, and the rain makes the termite mounds sprout the most delicious wild mushrooms!

The farm dam is full! It’s been empty for a year or more.

Flowers!!! Grass!!!

I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention this type of wild mushroom, called the omajova (pronounced oma-YO-va). They grow out of the base of termite mounds and they are enormous. Like, one can weight more than a pound. We went on a game drive one weekend and our game guide harvested some for us to take home, and then we stopped and bought more from some guys selling them by the road. I did my best to bargain, but they weren’t willing to budge and we paid about 20 USD for four enormous mushrooms. Now that I write that, it doesn’t sound exorbitant, but at the time it stung a little. The texture and flavor of these mushrooms is truly out of this world. They are so darn tasty.

Omajovas growing on the base of a termite mound

The most phallic mushrooms you’ll ever see.

Peeled, after a night in the fridge to bloom.

Autumn is in the air here in Windhoek. It’s chilly when we wake up in the mornings and all the air conditioners in our house are turned off. On Easter evening I took Artie for a walk, and the ground was slick with rain and fallen dried leaves. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out and enjoy the warm weather a little more before it gets actually cold. Fingers crossed!

Artie on a fall-is evening walk

COVID-19 in Namibia (as of 03 April)

A drink for our times, Namibia-style.

What a fucking crazy time.

For real.

There are currently 14 cases of COVID-19 in Namibia.  The reporting of confirmed cases has slowly been increasing in frequency and magnitude. It’s unclear to me how many are local transmission but there is no confirmed community transmission yet.*

We’ve decided that we are going to ride this pandemic out in Namibia. We are not going back to the US. (Unless we are forced to.) We are prepared to shelter-in-place in our house for months, we are ready to cut social in-person activities, and we have experience with the whole “no walking outside” thing, if it comes to that. We are ready. Is it crappy and will it get even crappier? Yes.

There were a number of factors to consider, many of which are, at this point, huge gaping question marks. But ultimately we decided that we are safer (both health-wise and emotionally) if we stay here. Only time will tell if we made the right decision. Or maybe we’ll go to Ordered Departure and then we will have to leave. Who knows. I have no idea what can/will happen.

We have some advantages here in Southern Africa**: we’ve watched this virus march across the planet and we’ve learned a lot from the responses of other countries. Many were slow to start testing and social distancing, quarantine advisories were implemented too late, and most countries didn’t do much until transmission was already out of control. Here, we’ve had time to practice habits like social distancing, washing our hands ALL THE TIME, less touching of faces, etc. Plus the science behind COVID-19 is improving and we are learning more and more. Will this work out to our advantage? We’ll see; only time will tell.

People around Namibia, including the government of Namibia, are taking this more seriously than I expected, honestly. About a week ago restrictions went into place. Nonessential shops are closed. You can’t buy alcohol. Restaurants are only open for take-out. No exercising or walking outside in groups of more than three people. Police are driving around enforcing the rules.  All points of entry into Namibia, with the exception of the international airport in Windhoek, will be closed for non-commercial travelers. These restrictions are in place until April 17.

We’ve been baking a lot over the past week. These cookies sprinkled with salt were a definite winner.

What will happen after that? Who knows. The epidemic in Namibia is only starting, and I can’t imagine that on April 18 the disease will magically disappear.

In the meantime we are working from home and who knows when M will go back to school. I have to keep reminding myself that this is hard for him too. He’d rather be at school, playing and learning with his teachers and friends, and going to dance and swimming classes than being cooped up at home with distracted, working parents who don’t always have time for him. Sometimes he gets upset, and we give him even more love and attention. There’s been a lot of hugging and talking about our feelings, much of which he initiates.

My new favorite coworker, lying beside my buffet-table-turned-standing-desk

There’s a fine line between staying up-to-date on the COVID-19 news and science, and getting drawn into a doom and gloom pit of despair. Here are some resources/websites I find helpful and look at daily:

  • Trying to stay up-to-date on information and public health measures for COVID-19? Look at the CDC website. I don’t like the WHO website;  I find it to be confusing and less helpful if you are a person who just wants info.
  • Trying to keep up-to-date on what the State Dept is doing? Check out Diplopundit.
  • Looking for a way to explain COVID-19 to your kids? I find this infocomic to be really helpful.
  • Looking for easily digestible graphs that explain COVID-19 epidemiology and trends? I like how the data is displayed on Information is Beautiful but it’s only updated once or twice a week.
  • Looking for better information than the Johns Hopkins tracker provides? Worldometer has a lot of helpful information by country, including cases per one million population, epi curves (new cases per day), mortality statistics, etc.

So, here we are. Who’d have thought we’d be in a situation with a global authorized departure. But this too shall pass, and at least this time we don’t have terrorists trying to kill us! There’s always a bright side.

*Local transmission is different from community transmission. Let’s say you are a tourist and you’re COVID-19 positive. If your receptionist/driver/etc gets COVID-19 from you that is local transmission. Community transmission is when a disease is transmitted from one person to another without a link to travel.

** We also have some major disadvantages here like poor/insufficient health care and some people that are malnourished or immunocompromised, etc. The baseline situation in Namibia is not cupcakes and rainbows.

Welcome home, Artie

Our newest family member!

Well, we are apparently 100% incapable of taking our own advice.

I don’t know how many people in the Foreign Service we’ve advised not to get a dog. There are a multitude of reasons. Transporting your dog is, by far, the most difficult part of changing posts. Not to mention finding a good vet, discovering what unique challenges that post will pose for your dog (Maybe your post will ban walking outside. Seriously. It could happen.), figuring out what to do when you’re used to a yard and now you have an apartment, finding someplace to board your dog or someone to watch him/her… the list goes on. And god help you if you get assigned a post that bans your dog’s breed. Or if you get assigned a post that you can’t take a dog to. Having a dog in the Foreign Service is NOT easy. In fact, this blog was partially born out of the difficulty of having a dog in this lifestyle: to show that it can be done and to hopefully provide some helpful info on how to make it work.

So, what did we do? 

We got another dog.

And it makes my heart so, so, so happy.

Surveying the greenery, which she was probably seeing for the first time ever

The thing is, and sadly it took losing Athena for me to realize this, when your dog is a member of your family, all that hardship and struggle is worth it. Our house doesn’t feel like home without a dog running around. It might be expensive, inconvenient, or a pain in the butt, but the tail wags, those snuggles, and all that unconditional love in return is just so darn worth it.

If those things don’t make it worth it for you? Then you shouldn’t get a dog.

We adopted Artemis, AKA Artie, from the Windhoek SPCA and she is such a sweetheart. She doesn’t freak out when M comes running towards her, she sleeps in her crate at night, she loves playing and fetching, and she comes running as soon as we call for her. She also forages in the garbage, pees on our nice rugs, has zero interest in sitting or heeling, and is picky about her treats. But these are things we can fix (mostly) so I’m not stressed about it.

Life is good again, my friends. We still miss Athena, but the pain isn’t as raw. My heart is buoyed by little Artie running around, eager to love us, knowing that we’ve given her the best thing yet: a family to call her own.

We love you, Artie!

My pandemic preparedness shopping list

I am not prone to panic. Worry, yes; panic, no. That said, I am worried about this COVID-19 outbreak. While there are no cases in sub-Saharan Africa yet, my gut tells me that it’s just a matter of time. I’m not being an alarmist. I’m being practical.

So, what am I going to do? I am going grocery shopping.

Some locations have seen a huge spike in the number of cases over the past few days, like Northern Italy, and others are locked-down, like Wuhan, China. In both of these places the grocery stores are either a mad-house or completely wiped out. Additionally, current WHO guidance states that anyone without a severe form of the disease should be isolated and managed from home. Remember that most cases of COVID-19 are basically nothing more than a cold (if you do not have an underlying health condition), so it’s completely do-able. But if someone in one home gets COVID-19, chances are that all other family members in that home will be self-quarantining too, which means no work, no school, no grocery shopping, etc.

At this point it’s not a bad idea to plan on potentially having to stay at home without leaving for several weeks, whether that’s due to a spike in cases, I’m sick myself, or someone else is sick. To do this, I’ll need to stock up on some basic groceries, plus some other things which I didn’t really consider at first.

When do I want to do a larger-than-normal grocery run? Now, before people are panicking and when products are still easily available? Or later, only when absolutely necessary, when thousands of my closest friends are running around the store like chickens with their heads chopped off and the shelves are bare?

I’d rather go shopping now.

The delightfully empty cleaning supply aisle at Super Spar

I’m not saying I’m going to start canning butter or go into zombie apocalypse mode; I’m simply saying that I’m going to buy a few more of everything than usual. The main thing is that I don’t want to buy anything we wouldn’t normally need. For instance, I don’t like canned vegetables other than tomatoes, so now is not the time to start buying them.

Worst case scenario, we are prepared to spend quality time at home by ourselves for a few weeks and maintain some semblance of normal life; best case scenario, we don’t need to buy pantry products again for some time.

Without further ado, I’m buying the following, which I think is a solid list applicable to just about everyone:

  • Cleaning supplies, particularly those for disinfecting things
  • Dish soap
  • Hand sanitizer/soap
  • Paper products: toilet paper, paper towels, tissues
  • Toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, anything you use every day)
  • Tylenol, Advil, etc.
  • UHT or powdered milk (whole milk for M, skim milk for me)
  • Pasta/rice/etc
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Cooking oil
  • Meat, eggs, or some other form of protein
  • Frozen fruits and veggies
  • Squash (butternut, acorn, etc: fresh squash last a long time on counter)
  • Flour
  • Easy-to-cook frozen food (what if all adults are ill and no one wants to cook?)
  • Bread
  • Condiments (mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, any other family favorites)

We also have a few things are specific to our household that I’ll stock up on:

  • Peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Crackers
  • Mini-packs of Haribo gummy bears
  • Yeast
  • Popcorn
  • Granola bars

You may also want to buy if available/necessary:

  • Clorox wipes
  • Extras of any necessary prescription medication, if possible
  • Dog food
  • Cat litter

Oh, and wine. If I’m going to be stuck at home, I’m going to need some wine.

Keep in mind that in the case of a pandemic, utilities are unlikely to be affected because infrastructure won’t be damaged (probably). While it’s always a good idea to stock extra drinking water just in case, that’s not my primary focus right now.

In the meantime it’s important to stay informed. Here is the link for CDC’s COVID-19 information page, here is the link to the WHO COVID-19 page, and here’s the link to my favorite COVID-19 tracker. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

 

I’m sorry, U.S. Mission China

As you probably know, we are in the middle of an outbreak of a novel strain of the coronavirus. It’s causing panic in many parts of the world, and mandatorily up-rooting everyone at U.S. Mission China who is under the age of 21. Hundreds of children and parents (but just one parent from each family, since the other probably has to stay behind and continue working, with the exception of the Wuhan consulate which evacuated fully), and other people from the Mission, are going back to the US, not knowing if/when they’ll get to go back and hoping that their spouse and friends stay safe.

Almost everyone in the State Department fears that their post will go on departure status. Departures, whether authorized (you can leave) or ordered (you have to leave), can happen for many reasons, including terrorism, political unrest, violence, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks, among others.  The fear is just: departures are no fun. The uncertainty, figuring out how/if you can take your pet, the sudden change, the general confusion, the threat on your safety/life, the worry; it fucking sucks.

I feel for the Mission China families. Seeing their pain on social media reminds me of my own and brings back a lot of really miserable memories. Fleeing a country that had become home, leaving behind everything and everyone precious to you, travelling for 24+ hours alone with a 10-month old, and trying to find a new normal isn’t easy.

When we evacuated from Dhaka, I didn’t write very much about it because it was so awful. I’ll never forget nearly bursting into tears when our flight landed at O’Hare and the pilot said, “Welcome to the United States of America.” I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. No one here was going to try to kill me.

Little did I know how hard the ensuing nine months would be. That sounds melodramatic, but it was truly the worst time of my life.

Sure, there were some bright spots. It was nice spending time with family and watching M bond with his grandparents. We saw Nate several times and that was always wonderful. I reconnected with some old friends and shopped at Target a lot. Like, A LOT.

But, for the most part, it was horrible. I felt so alone. I had not only completely overestimated my ability to make friends, but also how receptive people in a small town in middle America would be to an outsider like myself. I tried to make friends, but, for the most-part, nothing stuck.

About five months into our departure, my mom moved to a lovely town on Lake Michigan. Once we started spending most of our time with her, I finally started to feel like myself again (although, still, no friends) and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We facetimed with Nate every day. Whenever he didn’t respond, I immediately started worrying. Nothing bad happened in Dhaka after we left, thankfully, but that’s also enormously frustrating.  No one can see the future, but the fact that we would have been safe had we stayed still bugs me.

Hopefully we’ll never have to do another departure again. I’m glad that chapter of our lives is finished. But we always plan for the worst, and hope for the best.

A weekend at Erindi

A huge elephant by the Camp Elephant watering hole

One of our best friends from Muscat came to visit us, and we decided to go check out Erindi Private Game Reserve. Just about everyone in Windhoek told us Erindi is absolutely amazing, and (spoiler alert) they were right!

There are two lodging options: Camp Elephant or Old Trader’s Lodge. At Camp Elephant, you can either tent camp or stay in a self-catering chalet. No matter which option you choose, I don’t think you can go wrong. The camping looks seriously nice: there are private flush toilets and showers, a refrigerator, hot water, grassy areas for your tent (grass!), picnic tables, and a kitchen sink. Coming from Oman where there was literally nothing if you didn’t bring it with you, the camping there is hardly even camping, other than the fact that you have to sleep in a tent.

Self-catering chalets

We booked the self-catering chalets since we weren’t sure if we’d have our camping gear or not. The chalets all border a watering hole and have two bedrooms, a bathroom, air conditioning, and a well-equipped kitchen with a microwave, toaster, and a two-burner stove. Then outside there’s a picnic table and two (two!) braai areas. It was awesome.

The front of the chalet, with a view of the watering hole and two braai spots

Watering hole and chalets at dusk

I can’t tell you much about Old Trader’s Lodge because Camp Elephant guests are “strictly forbidden from visiting Old Trader’s Lodge at all.” I’m guessing it’s fancy? I have no idea. I’m also curious about what must have happened to institute this ridiculous policy.

We visited Erindi on Thanksgiving weekend, so we decided to do a glamping Thanksgiving. We cooked all the food, except the turkey, on Wednesday and Thursday. We got the braai going as soon as we arrived, heated up everything else, and had a humongous feast. In hindsight, the fact that we thought we needed to bring additional food for Saturday night is laughable. We went home without having cooked some of the food we brought, and we never even had a chance to make s’mores. Oh well. Worse things have surely happened.

Thanksgiving desserts!

Sausages on the braai

On Saturday morning, E and I went on an early morning game drive while Nate stayed behind with M and slept in. The game drive was…. alright, I guess? It certainly wasn’t my favorite. There were a bunch of loud hungover people that arrived late, drank throughout the entire thing, wanted to wake up the lions, asked if you could hunt rhinoceros, watched youtube videos and video-chatted during the game drive, and asked the driver if he had more drinks. And the driver seemed hell-bent on driving through the tightest of spaces in an enormous safari vehicle. I sat in the middle to avoid getting swiped by thorny branches. He spent probably 10 minutes trying to drive over a tree. But we saw a male and female lion resting and then a cheetah family out on a hunt, so that was cool.

The next morning, Nate and E went on a game drive while I stayed behind with M. Their guide was awesome, super-knowledgeable about everything, and took them to see lots of lions (including cubs!). Plus there was the added bonus of no obnoxious passengers. So I guess the game drive tours at Erindi are a total and complete crapshoot.

Another option at Erindi is to do self-drive game drives. You have to stay on the road, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see any lions or large predators unless they literally cross the road right in front of you, but you’ll see lots of other neat stuff. We saw a lot of zebras, springbok, oryx, and giraffes. Plus some clusters of elephants and rhinos.

Since moving here I’ve discovered that I get carsick on the bumpy dirt roads (great timing, huh?) so Nate drove the first half and then I took over. I felt slightly better behind the wheel, but I need to buy some kind of medicine for next time.

The amount of wildlife visible from the chalets is awesome. Hippos and crocodiles live in the watering hole, and there’s no shortage of wildebeest, springbok, elephants and warthogs, plus a huge variety of birds. There are also scorpions and bat-sixed moths. A palm-sized scorpion wandered towards our picnic table while we were playing a board game outside after M went to bed. I shouted “Holy shit, a scorpion!!!” and I’ve never seen grown adults jump so quickly on top of a table.

Erindi makes for a nice weekend getaway, or a great first stop on a further-flung camping trip. There’s a surprisingly large well-stocked shop next to the reception with pretty much everything you could need if you forget something, including ice and firewood. That said, I started a list of things to make sure we bring next time: pool towels, tin foil, binoculars, extra dish towels, a silicon spatula, and a kitchen sponge.

Erindi, we’ll be back!

Update: We’ve since returned to Erindi and our second account was about the same. Guided game drives are a still complete crapshoot (even more so than last time) and the facilities are still amazing.

At home, finally

Sunset from the back yard

We’ve been here in Windhoek for nearly four months, and it’s feels like home. We’re developing weekend routines, weekdays are starting to feel less insane, and I don’t need to use Google Maps to go everywhere.

Pandemonium in the living room on HHE delivery and unpacking day

Our sea freight shipment, or HHE, arrived just about a month ago, and it’s already 90% put away. Our house here has lots of built-in storage space and a huge kitchen, plus a garage (a garage!!!! We’ve never had a garage before!), so it was surprisingly easy to find places to put things. Although some stuff got shoved into closets, all of which I promised myself I’d deal with later.  Our photos and art are on the walls, our carpets are on the ground, we’re eating off our own plates with our own silverware, M has his books, I have all my kitchen gear and cookbooks, and Nate has his record players. Everyone is happy.

Life here has been relatively easy for us to adjust to. Most of the social culture is outdoors and it’s awesome. Plus you can easily buy just about everything you need, including pork products and alcohol. And things here are so darn inexpensive. It’s glorious. It’s just so nice to be someplace where it’s comfortable to be outside. I can’t stress that enough. Granted, we haven’t been here during the worst of the summer heat, but there’s no way it will ever be as bad as Oman. Nate and I were outside this morning at 11 am, hauling around bags of dirt and shoveling the soil, attempting to get a garden going. We never could have done that during an Omani summer without suffering from heat exhaustion.

One of many overwhelming aisles at Embassy Liquor. Yes the store is called Embassy Liquor. It’s almost like they knew who their best customers would be…

Speaking of Oman, we took some of the lessons we learned there and applied them to our life here. One of those lessons was to get our adventure car as soon as possible. We purchased a bakkie, or pick-up truck, and it is a big powerful vehicle. It’s the perfect 4×4 to explore Namibia with, and we’ve added a big metal top, or canopy, as they call it here, to the back. There’s so much storage space it’s amazing! We still need to get a roof rack and a steel rear bumper, but we are ready to go!

The workweek here took some serious getting used to. Monday through Thursday we work from 7:30ish to 5:15ish with a one-hour lunch break, and then on Fridays we work from 7:30ish to 12:30ish. We’re always running around like chickens with our heads chopped off trying to get to work on time (which never happens), and then in the evenings we scramble to get dinner on the table before M goes to take his bath around 7:45.  It makes me appreciate the Muscat workweek and commute, which had us leaving the house around 7:30 am and getting home by 4:45 pm each day. Thank heavens for our housekeeper; without her we’d be spending all our time doing laundry, tidying up or cleaning the kitchen.

Cloudy sky

One of my favorite things to do on Saturday mornings is to go to the farmer’s market. There are all kinds of vendors, and when you want to buy something, the vendor sets your stuff aside and gives you a receipt. Once you’re done visiting all the stalls, you take all your receipts to the payment area, pay your bill (you can even pay with a card!), and they mark all your receipts as “paid.” Then you go hand your paid receipts to the vendors and you collect your stuff. It’s ingenious. It’s nice to be able to stroll around without lugging heavy bags everywhere. Although it’s also kind of bad because you don’t realize exactly how much you purchased until you have to collect it all and you leave with far more than you actually needed.

Another cloudy sky, this time in the morning

We’re glad we’ll be here for three years. We are settling in, and M is happy at his “tall house in Africa.” Our time in the U.S. over the summer (about 7 weeks) was really hard for him and he kept asking to “go home.” We tried to explain to him that Muscat wasn’t our home anymore, that we were going to have a bunch of different homes over the summer, and that we’d finally arrive at our new home in Namibia, but what 3-year old really understands that? When we finally pulled up the driveway to our house in Windhoek, he said “Are we at my house in Africa?” We were very relieved to finally tell him we were home.

It’s like we can all finally exhale after a summer of holding our breath, now that we’re here. And that’s a nice feeling.

The world keeps turning

Athena’s last camping trip in December 2018. She did a very good job of eating all the ashes and making sure no food was left on the ground.

I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve started and then deleted or just never finished over the past few weeks. Five? Ten? I feel like there’s so much, but also nothing, to write about.

It’s been nearly a month since Athena died, and life goes on. That sounds so trite, but it’s true.

PCSing is never easy, and this time around it’s been particularly brutal. But we’re focusing on the good and moving forward. There will always be an Athena-shaped hole in my heart and we will keep her memory alive through photos and stories. We take the challenges as they come, and continue to try to live our best lives. That’s the way it works, right?

Athena at the vet’s office in Muscat in September 2019, getting her pre-flight bloodwork done

So I’m focusing on one of our best friends coming to visit in less than three weeks (!), the adventures to come, the joyful four-year old running around collecting bugs, the cool evening breeze, my loving husband, the life we’re building for ourselves in Windhoek, our supportive family and friends, and the glass of wine in my hand.

Shit happens. Really terrible, heart-breaking shit. But you just keep going. You don’t have a choice.

Digging herself a nice sand hole to lie down in at Shatti by the embassy on Christmas Eve 2018

The polarities of Foreign Service life

I wrote this post back in November of 2018 but I could never bring myself to publish it because it seemed like I would be jinxing myself. I almost published it when we were leaving Oman, but I just couldn’t. I’m glad I didn’t because then I’d think I had jinxed us. Turns out shit happens whether you tempt fate or not.

Without editing or further ado…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” While this quote was used by Charles Dickens to describe 1700’s London and Paris, it also applies to life in the Foreign Service. We only have about 8 months left here in Oman, and the past year has been absolutely amazing. That’s in stark contrast to our Dhaka tour, which ended up being a complete shit-show.

This got me thinking about life in the Foreign Service and all of the ups and downs. Sometimes it’s fun and fancy, full of incredible adventures, while other times it’s literally the stuff of nightmares. (Keep in mind, we’ve only been doing this since 2015, and there are a lot of more experienced voices out there than mine.) The same could be said for life anywhere, but sometimes you have to accept more risk to get more reward. Some of the best and worst times of my life have happened since joining the FS, most of them directly caused by our choice to live this lifestyle, which gives us so much, but also takes away a lot.

You never really know what you’re going to get. That’s a risk that we, as a family, are willing to take. For now, anyways.

Over the past year, we’ve done so many amazing, incredible things, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Watching M grow into a little boy who loves the water and hiking, strolls around the Muttrah souk like he owns the place, loves his nanny and his teachers, begs to FaceTime with his grandparents, and runs to the door shrieking “Let’s go on an adventure!” is absolutely priceless. We are so very lucky to have the opportunity to live in Oman, and we appreciate the good times like they might never happen again. (Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc. that nothing catastrophic happens here over the eight months)

Then look at our experience in Dhaka: it was fine, great in fact, until it turned into a descent into literal  hell. It started with an Italian NGO worker getting shot to death outside of the grocery store that we shopped at every week and then a few months later one of the local staff at the embassy was hacked to death with a machete in his apartment. A few months after that was the terrorist attack at Holey Bakery, which resulted in the quick departure of over half of the embassy community.

Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse writing about how great Oman has been, because things could turn on a dime. But even then, we still would have had the past 14 months of pure awesomeness. Things were never awesome in Dhaka. Our best times were spent hanging out with our friends in each other’s houses, and on vacation in other countries. We never got to experience the real Dhaka or Bangladesh.

I suppose that all of this is to say that I’m grateful for life’s upswing that we’ve had here. We’ve been lucky, and we know it. Maybe Oman was our cosmic payback for enduring Dhaka, but we are very cognizant of how good we’ve had it over the past year. Bracing for our next tour, we go into it hoping for the best. But in the back of my mind, there are thoughts about how it could go wrong and what contingency plans we’ll need. Nate will continue to always sit facing the exit in any restaurant we go to, and I’ll always be jumpy about people walking behind me.

Our family motto has been and will continue to be “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.” There’s no time like the present.