Dear Athena

My dear, sweet Athena,
I am so sorry. So, so, so, so goddamn sorry. We failed you and I’ll never forgive myself.
We love you so much. I hope you know that. We didn’t forget about you, and we never will. We were working so hard to try to get you to Windhoek as soon as possible, but we didn’t work hard enough. I will never stop regretting that. You were supposed to arrive here yesterday, and our lives will never be the same.
I said good-bye to you when I dropped you off at the kennel, knowing that two and a half months is a long time and who knows what could happen, but I never expected this. I’m glad I had the chance to hug you and kiss you, and that we took family photos the night before. Those photos are so precious.
I hope you spent your last days playing with your friends, getting fed lots of treats, and lying in the sun, relaxing. I hope they were care-free, easy times and that you were living your best life. We wanted to take you with us, but we worried that flying across the Atlantic ocean twice in six weeks in the middle of the summer would be too much for you. We thought that leaving you in Oman at a kennel you loved was the best choice. And the fact that the whole thing was my idea will haunt me for the rest of my days. I will never forgive myself.
They say you died of smoke inhalation. I hope that you were fast asleep, on your favorite mat, ducking in your sleep like you always do, with you nose tucked under your back leg. I hope you didn’t feel a thing. Just thinking about it makes me wail with grief. It breaks my heart.
We explained to M what happened, and he knows “Afeena died.” It makes me so sad that he might not remember you. You were such a big part of his life, and he thought of you as his doggie. We will make sure he never forgets you, and the memory of you will live on.
We were lucky to have so many amazing, fun years with you. We’ll never forget all those hikes at Manassas, how much you loved basking in the sun, all the time spent snuggling, how much you loved playing lazy tug, all the foot licks, the happy puppy rolls in the grass, playing fetch on the beach, the family camping trips, deer leaps in the tall grass, the list goes on. We have so many wonderful memories, and the photos to go along with them. For that, I’m grateful.
You weren’t perfect (who is?) but you tried so hard and you loved us so much. You are, and forever will be, part of our family. You’re with us in spirit now, and although you can’t snuggle with us or beg for food, we still feel your presence.
We love you, Beanie bear. I hope you’re playing non-stop with all the amazing dogs that went before you, and I hope Sparky, Kipper, Bianca, Lilly, Toby, Taz, and Beauty are all keeping you company.
All my love, now and forever,
Mom
Rest in Peace Athena: December 20, 2009 – October 3, 2019
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Athena’s life lately and PCS plans

Athena looking sheepish because she knows that’s not her toy

Some of you might not know, but this blog is named for our dog Athena. Back when I started According to Athena in 2014 she was the center of our universe and my initial intention was to make the blog largely about our life with a dog and her life in the Foreign Service. Looking at my posts over the past few years, obviously that hasn’t really happened. Heck, part of that time I wasn’t even living with her when she and Nate were living the single life in Dhaka after we got evacuated out. But, rest assured, Athena is doing well, and I think she’s going to be very happy when we PCS and she (hopefully) has a huge yard to call her own.

Our plan is to drop Athena off at our favorite boarding facility here in Oman, where she will stay for at least two months while we go back to the US for a few weeks of training and a month of home leave. Then one of our friends will bring Athena to us. There’s a direct flight from Doha to Windhoek, so the travel time won’t even be that long. This way we are able to avoid a lot of stressors for her, including two very long flights across the Atlantic and back, jet lag (yes, dogs get jet lag and it’s miserable), traveling at peak summer heat, and figuring out what to do with her during home leave. Plus we only have to pay to ship her once, rather than twice.

We know Jebel K9 will take excellent care of her, and hopefully our grand plan works out! It’ll make life a lot easier for everyone, plus our friend who is bringing us Athena gets a free ticket to visit us in Windhoek. We are taking care of as much of the veterinary side of things right now as we can, including updating vaccinations and rabies shots, and hopefully she’ll be squared away by the time we leave in July.

As she’s getting older, I worry about how she’ll handle 24+ hours in her crate without being let out, especially when it gets hot, and I’m really glad we’re able to (hopefully, fingers and toes crossed) avoid that this time around.

Athena had lots of adventures over the winter, including camping trips, time at the beach, and cozying up to visitors. We also discovered that her stomach can no longer handle chicken, which was a bit of a puke-filled wild ride. She’s not allergic to chicken, she just can’t eat it without throwing it all up. Luckily we got that resolved quickly and relatively easily, and our house has been dog vomit-free since.

The weather is getting hot these days, and our walks are becoming shorter. She’ll only walk so far before she just plants her feet and won’t walk any further unless we turn around. I’m not one to argue with her, since I’m usually miserable outside too. (As you can imagine, the days of lovely morning runs on the beach are over.)

She knows change is coming, maybe because we’re sorting through boxes, or she can just sense it in the way that dogs are able to know these things. I’ve felt bad for her with the lack of easily-accessible outdoor space here in Muscat. In Dhaka we had an apartment, but at least we had that lovely rooftop grassy area. Here’s there’s literally a cement carport and a tiny patio off the kitchen.

It’s not easy having a dog in the Foreign Service, and we’ve been lucky to have a good support network for Athena at both our posts so far. Windhoek seems like a relatively dog-friendly place, as long as she doesn’t get too close to the huge spiders and snakes we’re probably have in our theoretical yard. She’s done a surprisingly good job at handling change, and she’s learned to love her alone time in her crate. She knows it’s her safe place where no one can bother her, and that makes traveling with her much easier.

Good girl, Athena!

Stopping to smell the flowers

Relaxing at the beach

Posing with one of her favorite toys

Athena and her buddy (who we’ve named Ginger)

Basking in the carport

Keeping the donkeys away from the campsite

Mosquitoes, a half marathon, a trip to the vet and other Muscat happenings

This photo has nothing to do with anything in this blog post. I just think it’s pretty.

I’m not sure how much my readers get out of my random posts about our life here in Oman, but they are my favorites to go back and read later, full of little details and anecdotes that I’ll otherwise forget.

My public health and Oman worlds are finally colliding! Given the lack of vector-borne diseases here, I thought the “Beware of schistosomiasis” signs at the wadis in Salalah were all I’d get.  But last month a few cases of locally transmitted non-imported dengue were reported around Muscat. Now the Ministry of Health is going house-to-house distributing information on how to eliminate breeding sites and decrease the number of mosquitoes. They are also fogging and spraying around town, including in our neighborhood. One morning I stepped outside at 5:15 am to go for a run to find a cloud of chemicals sitting in our carport. My half-asleep first thought was, “Huh. I’ve never gotten to run through fog like this before! Good thing E [my running buddy] has a head-lamp.” Then I took a breath a realized it was not the nice kind of fog. Another time I was running by a construction site and I had to go through another thick chemical cloud. Luckily the other side of the street wasn’t as bad. Who knows how many years I’ve shaved off my lifespan by inhaling all those chemicals. But hey, at least all my mosquito knowledge is coming in handy!

Speaking of running, I ran my second Muscat Half Marathon a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it sucked more than any race has ever sucked before in my life. I had a super-strong training cycle, full of intervals, tempo runs and long runs at my fastest paces yet. But the temperature on race day was unseasonably high and there were only hydration stations on the half marathon course, plus I went in with tired legs. I drank all the water I was carrying in probably the first 7 miles, and I was hot and exhausted. I didn’t do myself any favors by snorkeling for 2 hours and then hikingthe Muttrah Geotrek on Wednesday, with which I followed up by hiking Wadi Shab on Thursday, the day before the race. All that activity right before the race might have been a poor choice, but I don’t regret it. My sister was visiting and I’d much rather do all those fun things (which were perfect, by the way. The snorkeling at Daymaniyat Islands has never been better and we had the crystal blue waters of Wadi Shab to ourselves. I was literally the first person into Bimmah Sinkhole that morning!) and have a sub-par race than to skip those things and potentially PR. A race is a just a run, of which there will be many more, but experiencing Oman with my sister and her fiancé only happens once.

Sunrise over the start of the Muscat Marathon races this year

Was a day spent in these waters worth a disappointing race? Definitely!

When my sister was visiting, we went to Desert Nights in the Wahiba Sands. Everyone said that Desert Nights is the best way to experience the desert in Oman, aside from actual camping, and this is 10000% correct. It’s also the most expensive glamping option available, but it is definitely worth it. I didn’t like 1000 Nights. I drafted a blog post about why it sucked, but I have yet to publish it. 1000 Nights wasn’t particularly bad, but a lot of factors came together and it was a less-than-pleasant experience. Did we have fun there with our friends? Yes. Would I stay there again? Nope. Desert Nights, on the other hand, gets an enthusiastic two thumbs up!

Sunset over the Wahiba Sands

Sunrise over the Wahiba Sands, 11 hours later

We’ve recently had our first real experience with veterinary care in Oman, and overall it was very positive and inexpensive. We’ve been lucky with Athena over the past few years because she hasn’t had any serious health problems. Somehow she made it through Dhaka without a single issue, which was great because there was like one qualified veterinarian in the whole country. Anyways, lately she’s been coughing, hacking and vomiting a lot. Like, puking at least once a day, sometimes more. We had dewormed her and we started giving her chicken and rice, in hopes that a bland diet would help. It didn’t. We took her to vet and they did a physical, ran a blood panel, and prescribed a week of gastric-acid decreasing medicine and some prescription dog food. His diagnosis was that she’s an old dog with a sensitive stomach who might be allergic to chicken. Sure enough, ever since then she’s stopped coughing and hacking and she hasn’t vomited once. Oh, and the whole bill, prescriptions and everything, was less than $200. Whew!

Things are also falling into line for our Windhoek PCS. Trainings are scheduled, home leave is getting sorted, M has preschool lined up, and Athena has her 2-month long boarding reservation in the books. I know that no matter how much we square away now, there’s always going to be a final rush to get everything done. But the idea is that the more we deal with now, piece by piece, the less we’ll be slammed at the end and we can still take our last weekends here to enjoy Oman. Time will tell on how that pans out. Until then, more adventures await!

Where I try to not think PCSing and it doesn’t work

Omani winters: what’s not to love?

We only have about seven months left in Oman. I try to not think about leaving, but it’s hard not to. People ask about our upcoming PCS frequently, and when I’m bored I google Namibia.

One thing that I’ve discovered through my Namibia google searches is the thing that is travel blogging. Like, quitting your job, doing a ton of sponsored posts, filling your blog with ads and affiliate links, and traveling the world with almost zero personal expenditures. And, dude, travel blogging is popular! I’m kind of on-the-fence about it. I thought travel blogging was, uh, traveling and then writing about it, but this is a whole new level of bonkers, the main goal of which appears to be giving everyone FOMO. On the other hand, some of them do actually have some useful information. But it’s funny how many blogs have the “Perfect 2-Week Namibia Itinerary!” and none of them are the same. How can travel be that fun when you have to monetize everything? I guess it is basically your job. But I am a creature of habit and I like having someplace to come home to, rather than being gone for months on end. I also enjoy not having an agenda or being beholden to anyone or anything when we travel.  While it’s fun to share our adventures to random places, this will definitely never be a “travel blog.” I’ll leave that to the bleach-blonde ladies with $300 sunhats and their handsome beaus.

Now that the weather is consistently good, we went camping at Fins Beach a few weeks ago. The spot we wanted was taken, so we picked a rocky area along the coast with no one nearby. In hindsight, we probably should have kept driving to find somewhere better. There was garbage everywhere, and both of us spent at least 30 minutes picking up trash and broken glass while Athena ran around eating everything she could get her mouth on. M chased after her yelling “Don’t eat that!” She did not listen (and then literally vomited sand and ash when we got home. Fun times). It was just kind of one of those camping trips where stuff kept going wrong: we forgot a cork screw, M kept falling on the rocks, Athena kept running off into the night chasing god-knows –what, etc.  Oh, and after putting M to bed I saw one of the biggest and ugliest spiders I’d ever seen, right next to our tent. Nate came over and threw a rock at the spider, killing it. We figured out that it was a camel spider, and then we spent  20 minutes googling camel spiders under the stars and comparing notes. The next morning, once we were in the car on our way back to Muscat, I was just relieved that no one stepped on glass, got sliced by the rocks, or bitten by a spider.

Campsite amongst the rocks and shrubs

But look at that view!

Athena looking sheepish after I found her eating something she shouldn’t

Athena surveying all the missed snacking opportunities

The coast and Athena after sunrise

We’ve taken a break from our weekend adventuring to go to holiday parties, host game nights, go to National Day celebrations, and a number of other events. December has been crazy busy so far, and it will get even busier shortly with a string of guests through the end of January. I’m also training for the 2019 Muscat half marathon, and my mornings are spent hitting the pavement before sunrise. Every time I go for a run and I’m tired and wishing I was still in bed, I look at the ocean and make myself relish the opportunity to run in such a beautiful place. In Windhoek, I don’t know where I’m going to run. It’s rated critical for crime and running outside isn’t advised. So I’m making extra effort to cherish my runs here in Muscat.

Muscat views during an early-morning run

I’m *really* going to miss this

We went to Salalah last week to escape the craziness, and we did absolutely nothing adventurous there. We ate ourselves silly every morning and then I went to the beach, pool, or gym, while M went to the Kid’s Club. At night we’d put M to bed and then go downstairs to sit by the pool and have cocktails. One evening we went to the souk, which was the most underwhelming souk experience I’ve ever had. Over half of the souk area has been torn down and the remaining booths all sell nothing but frankincense and incense burners. I came away empty-handed. We stayed at the Anatara (which offers per diem rates during the off-season) and one thing I was very surprised by was that their pastry chef was amazing. Usually baked goods in countries without a strong baking tradition range from mediocre to bad. But the pastries and baked goods at the Anatara were excellent. It took every ounce of my self-control to not eat the entire tray of cinnamon rolls each morning.

So fancy at the Anantara

Vacation ingredients: sunshine, sand and water

Salalah sunset

Literally every stall was selling “incense and perfumes”

M eyeing the frankincense

Life is good and easy right now. I’m relishing these moments while the weather is nice, things are calm and quiet, and it feels like Oman is our oyster. Soon we’ll be PCSing and life will be hectic, with a whirlwind 7 weeks in the US before arriving in Windhoek. Then who knows how long it’s going to take to feel settled. To find our favorite restaurants and stores, be able to drive around and not get lost, find easy weekend getaway spots, make friends (the real kind, that you can talk to about everything, not just what your kids are doing), get our stuff and put everything away, find the good dog-walking routes, etc. I’m dreading that shit. I was talking with a close friend about our PCS, and when I told her our departure date she stuck out her lower lip and gave me the saddest face. And it hit me: we are going to leave Oman and all our friends. And it’s really going to suck. I will probably be a sobbing mess.

See? There you go. I’m trying so hard to not thing about leaving, but it’s always there, in the background. Even when I try to avoid it, sometimes that’s what I turn to.

On that depressing note, we are about to head out on a family walk with M and Athena. It’s in the 70’s and maybe I’ll even wear a long sleeved shirt and make M put on some pants. Oman, we are not done with you yet!

Vacationing, non-biolumnisecent algae, running, and other stuff

Oh, man. Winter is going by way too quickly. I feel like I blinked and January was over. Why is it that time always flies when you’re having fun? Never in my life have I been like, “Well that sucked. Thank god it was over quickly.”

Sunrise over paradise

Nate and I spent five days in the Maldives and it was the most vacationy vacation I’ve ever had. It was fantastic. In case you have questions about our trip, here are my responses to the most common queries:

  • Yes, it’s worth it.
  • We stayed at the Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa and we loved it.
  • Yes, it is a kid-friendly resort (but you’ll have more fun if you leave them behind unless they are amazing swimmers).

Our bungalow was the third one.

While we were away Athena stayed at Jebel K9 and she had a great time. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, about 45 minutes from Muscat, and the hours aren’t exactly work-friendly, but I think it’s the best boarding you’ll find in the area. I drove down the driveway to the main house and felt like I was entering Doggy Manor. The dogs are kenneled in a huge fancy house and then they have a bunch of dog runs outside in a humongous compound where the dogs play with handlers and with each other. She came home happy and tired, so I’ll take it.

M has started going to half-day daycare/preschool and it’s been great for him. He and one Korean girl are the only non-Arab children in the class, and he’s even getting Arabic lessons once a day (the school operates primarily in English).  The school focuses on developing children into responsible, helpful, and mindful citizens, so they’re learning about gardening, recycling, helping around the house, and community service. Recently he had a field trip and the school sent a text message telling all the parents they need to give a carseat for their child to use that day. In a country where you see children riding on the driver’s lap, hanging their heads out the window, this was great to see. Let me know if you need Muscat daycare/pre-school recommendations, because we’ve been very happy so far!

Not a bad view for a road race!

A few weeks ago I ran my first half marathon since October 2014. My training didn’t go perfectly and I didn’t PR, but I ran the whole thing and I finished. And my time was only 9 minutes slower than my last half. The race was through Al Mouj north of Muscat and I thought it was relatively well-run, no pun intended. They didn’t finalize the race course until like a week ahead of time, there was no race expo at packet pick-up, and parts of the course were through a construction site (after which I had to take my shoes off and dump out the pebbles and sand). But they had lots of water stations and they were handing out gels and bananas. Maybe I’ll do a separate post on the race since I think this is quickly getting boring for anyone who doesn’t care about running.

Moving on… We spent Christmas day at our favorite beach with some good friends. One of the upsides of having an artificial Christmas tree is that you can take it apart, so I pulled the top off and brought it to the beach, along with the star tree topper. We drank prosecco and grilled chicken and sausages while the kids played in the sand and chased crabs. It was a perfect way to spend the day and I didn’t miss the cold Wisconsin winter weather for even a minute.

Mother Nature tried to be festive and decorate for Christmas

However, one thing that was odd about the beach that day was the amount of algae. It was ridiculous. The water was bright green. We went back again a few weeks later thinking maybe it would be gone by then, but it wasn’t. One of my friends said she’d heard it was bioluminescent algae (which I can’t mention without thinking of the quote “Oh, I see what she’s done, she’s covered a barnacle in bioluminescent algae, as a diversion.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably don’t have kids.) so I even drove back to the beach late at night to try to get some cool photos. Turned out it wasn’t bioluminescent, or I wasn’t doing whatever needed to be done for it to be bioluminescent.

Not bioluminescent, just green and smelly.

We drove to see the beehive tombs at Bat and Al Ayn/Ain a few weeks ago. We couldn’t find the ones at Bat, but the Al Ayn (not to be confused with Al Ain in the UAE) tombs were visible from the main road. I may have shrieked when I first saw them. They are 5,000 year-old tombs that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are pretty fricking cool. There are supposed to be more tombs at Bat, but the ones at Al Ain are spectacular because of the setting. They are perched on top of a hill in front of a huge mountain and they’re very well-preserved. Once we figure out how to get to the ones at Bat, I’ll write a separate post about that too.

Beehive tombs at Al Ayn

Alright, I have to go finish my book club book. I didn’t finish last month’s and I’m not failing two months in a row!

Bringing a dog into Oman

Athena at the beach

Arranging Athena’s travel is, by far, the most difficult, stressful, and expensive part of changing posts.

Before M was born, a friend told me that if I thought traveling with a dog was bad, just wait until I try traveling with a baby. That friend was wrong. No matter how terrible a flight with a baby is, at least you know your baby is with you, getting its needs met in a temperature controlled environment. Whereas if your dog is in the belly of the plane in cargo, who knows what is happening. Our total travel to Dhaka was over 24 hours and during that time, Athena got no food or water. Apparently she has an iron-clad bladder because she also held it the entire time.

Our travel to Muscat was on United and Swiss Air with one layover in Zurich.  We’ve all heard the United pet travel horror stories.  A dead golden retriever, a dead giant bunny, the list goes on. When pets travel on United they travel through United’s PetSafe program, which supposedly keeps them in a temperature controlled environment the whole time, they are offered food and water, and they can be taken out of their crates during layovers. I called PetSafe, booked Athena on our flight to Zurich, and was told United “doesn’t do codeshares” for pet travel. Meaning Athena would be booked through only to Zurich and we would have to recheck her there for the Muscat flight.

Great… So now our dog is also entering Switzerland, which has it’s own set of pet importation rules. Ugh.

I called Swiss Air and they, very politely I should add, assured me that she would never leave the transit area and there was no need for all the Swiss pet import documents.  But it was required that the dog be clean and not smell bad in order to board the plane. Okay, fine, hopefully her iron bladder would hold.

One more thing about United’s PetSafe: it is ridiculously expensive. For Athena and her crate it should have cost $1194 just to Zurich, given the total weight. Instead the guy quoted me $843, which is the cost for the weight class taking into account just Athena’s weight.  I figured United would realize it’s mistake when we were checking in and we’d be taken to the cleaners at that point.

A few weeks before we were scheduled to fly out, we filled out the Omani pet importation form, and the embassy arranged for our pet importation certificate. Athena didn’t need any special shots, rabies titers or anything strange; the process was quite painless. Oman doesn’t have a quarantine or anything, although your pet does have to be inspected by a vet upon arrival and if it looks unwell it could be quarantined. We were told that Omanis like to see stamps on official documents and that it would be a good idea to get Athena’s health certificate USDA certified but that it wasn’t required. We figured we weren’t going to go this far just to get her turned away because there weren’t enough stamps, so we spent a day of home leave driving to Richmond and paid $32 for a stamp and some signatures.

Five days after getting the health certificate certified by the USDA, we were at Dulles getting everything checked in. Athena’s crate met the specifications; her food, collar and leash were taped to the outside; “live animal” stickers covered almost every visible surface of the crate; and all of our flight info was taped to the crate.  Nate took Athena outside for one last hurrah while we got everything sorted out (we got there 3 hours early and ended up needing almost every minute of it). It came time to pay and the lady mentioned that the guy had quoted us the wrong price, but that she would honor that price. I was shocked. She assured me that paying a lower price would not affect the care Athena would receive, and then she slapped the Dulles to Zurich baggage tag on her crate.

We arrived in Zurich with a 4 hour layover and Nate went to go get Athena and recheck her while I dealt with a toddler who was running (literally and figuratively) on minimal sleep. A few hours later Nate found us at the gate, and apparently he and Athena had to exit the airport. He didn’t even have to show her health certificate and Athena had a nice little layover in Zurich. She drank Evian because water fountains aren’t a thing and, after spending another $350 for her ticket, she was on her way to Muscat with us.

Having to pick her up in Zurich and recheck her was a bit of a blessing in disguise, even if it was a pain in the butt. She got food and water and a chance to stretch her legs and take care of doggy business. Plus she got to experience Switzerland. Athena has now been to five countries!

In Muscat her crate came out on the luggage belt with the rest of the bags and she looked good. She handled the flight well, passed the vet check, and we loaded her into the embassy van to go to our new home.

She’s adjusting well so far to life here. She spends most of the day inside, as do we all, and we enjoy our evening walks when it’s cooled down a bit. Athena has joined us at the beach several times and she still doesn’t quite understand that she can’t drink the water. She’ll get there eventually.

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.

IMG_7268

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.

IMG_7269

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!

Athena afield

Even though we can’t take Athena for walks anymore, there is an enclosed field we are allowed to take her to.

This field is pretty big.  She has a fun time running around, rolling in the dirt, sniffing everything, and trying to eat the garbage.

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From time to time, feral cats wander into the field.  The first time Athena saw one of the cats, she stalked towards it, and then barreled at it at full speed. I watched as the cat saw her coming and stood it’s ground, and all I could think was “oh shit.” Not because I was worried Athena would try to kill the cat, but because of what the cat might do to Athena.

As she came close, the cat hissed and took a swipe at her, and Athena immediately backed off.  She’s “greeted” several other cats, and most of them don’t run when they see her coming, much to her chagrin.  I suppose if you’re going to survive the mean streets of Dhaka as a feral cat, you have to be able to hold off the all the stray dogs, and, since dogs like to chase, it’s better to not run.

Sometimes Nate takes Athena to the field in the evening after work, but apparently there are five or six massive owls that fly around the field when the sun goes down.  He said one of them gave a prey screech and then dive-bombed Athena.  Luckily the owl didn’t make contact.

There is also a stray dog in the field sometimes that Athena has become best friends with.  It’s another female, surprisingly, and they are two peas in a pod.  She’s the first dog that has played tug or chase with Athena since we got here.

Even though we can’t take her for walks, I think Athena probably gets more exercise in the field than she was getting before.  I’m still keeping my fingers (and toes, and just about everything else I can cross) crossed that they will lift the walking restriction in our neighborhood.  I really miss our family walks.  But at least Athena is still having fun!

Two months in

I know I say this a lot, but time is flying by.  If the first two months of our tour here have gone by this quickly, I feel like if I blink for too long, we’ll already be packing up to leave.

We’re both busy with work and we’ve settled into our daily routines. I’ve figured out where my favorite places are to buy groceries, produce, pastries, jewelry, and handicrafts.  You know, all the important stuff.

We got a car on July 1, which has simultaneously made things a lot easier and been a huge pain in the butt.  It turns out when you buy a old SUV and drive it in pothole-riddled Dhaka, things break a lot.  I don’t know why that caught us by surprise, but there you go.  We’ve already had to replace a tire and we need to get the engine looked at.  And there was the time the car died in the DIT-2 parking lot.  Not in a parking space, but blocking traffic in the middle of the parking lot, around noon, on a hot day.  That wasn’t fun.

Really it hasn’t been that bad, I guess it just seems like it sometimes.  The ability to move around freely and go where we want outweighs the occasional car trouble.

The embassy was closed for four days for Eid festivities, and it was really nice to have a four-day weekend when you don’t celebrate the holiday that causes the time off.  We didn’t do any extravagant cooking, we had no guests, and almost everything in Dhaka was closed, so there was really nothing to do.  Most people leave Dhaka during Eid (expats go on vacation and lots of Bangladeshis go to their villages), so we were able to drive in minimal traffic and generally do nothing.  Plus it rained like crazy the entire four days, so that in itself was a great excuse to stay inside and watch Netflix all day.

Empty streets: an Eid miracle

Empty streets: an Eid miracle

Athena has made friends with lots of street dogs, and at this point she has established areas where she knows all the dogs and she doesn’t hesitate to go running up to them. We’ve given some of them names, like “black and brown dog” and “howly lady,” and some of them we refer to by the road that they live on. I’m trying to not let myself get too attached to any of her friends, and anytime I see one of them lying on the road I worry they’re not getting up.  But our neighborhood is probably one of the better neighborhoods to be a street dog.  Actually, the only dogs I’ve seen being abused are those that are out with their “dog walkers.”

Athena and her buddies

Athena and her buddies

Oh, our HHE is here!  That deserves it’s own blog post, but we’ve been busy trying to put things away, and wondering why we ever found it necessary to own so much stuff.  Our kitchen has massive cabinets that sadly do not contain enough shelves, so finding storage has been a challenge.  But, hey, at least all the kitchen stuff is actually in the kitchen, instead of being scattered in storage nooks and crannies in the study, dining room and living room! Our mentality has basically been that if we were able to find someplace for something in our house in Alexandria, we can certainly find space for it our much-larger apartment in Dhaka.

One of the most exciting things about our HHE arriving was the random consumables.  The pumpkin butter and huge chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, real maple syrup from Wisconsin, and all of our spices have definitely made life a little better.  Given that we didn’t use even half of our HHE weight, I wish we’d stocked up more on consumables before we left, but now we know for next time.

If you live near a Trader Joe’s, please wander the aisles, savor all the goodies you could potentially buy, and know how lucky you are!

Dogwalking during Ramadan

This is our first time living in a predominantly Muslim country, and we’ve learned a lot about life during Ramadan.  Every day, the fast is broken with a meal called Iftar, which begins as soon as the sun sets.  By late afternoon, it seems that everything basically revolves around where you’re having Iftar and how you’re getting there.  Some people leave work early, and traffic is a complete gridlock as everyone is on the roads to get to Iftar.

Once it’s about 6:45 pm, though, the streets are empty.  No cars, few rickshaws, and a handful of pedestrians.  It’s a Dhaka miracle.

And that’s when we take Athena for her evening walk.  It’s a wonderful, quiet time, and I’m going to miss it after Eid.

If you head out for a walk 20 to 30 minutes before Iftar, be prepared for cars barreling down the street, with little regard for pedestrians, as people hurry to get to Iftar on-time.  There aren’t many cars on the roads, but the ones that are out have no time to waste and drive even more crazily than usual.

The solitude of Iftar lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then there are vehicles and people on the streets again.  Also on the streets, you will find discarded food, which makes this time of the evening Athena’s favorite time for a walk.  She goes into scavenger-mode and will not lift her nose from the ground.  Apparently the other night Nate pulled a huge meatball out of her mouth.

We avoid going for walks after about 8:45 pm because there are loads of people on the streets leaving the mosques near our apartment, and this includes mobs of trouble-making boys.  They ask us for money and try to hassle Athena, and she gets (understandably) really uncomfortable and anxious.  A few nights ago the three of us were out walking, and I had Athena’s leash. Nate was walking behind us to make sure the boys didn’t bother Athena and me, and they threw rocks at him. Little shits.

So no more late night potty breaks for Athena, but she’d rather snuggle and sleep anyways, so I don’t think she cares.

Ramadan lasts until July 17, and we will savor the quiet walks until Ramadan starts again on June 7, 2016!