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.

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Preparing for Muscat and home leave

In about a month we depart for Muscat! I’m so excited. I feel like I shouldn’t be because I’m just setting myself up for disappointment, but I can’t help it. I absolutely can’t wait.

Nate has finished up his training, and we stayed busy exploring parks and playgrounds, going to various Smithsonian museums, catching up with friends, going for walks and hikes, and eating at more restaurants than one might consider healthy.

We are living in Arlington for the first time ever. I’m not going to lie, I was a little wary of living here after spending six years in Alexandria, but I love it. There’s an incredible network of running/biking trails, loads of parks and playgrounds, and lots of good restaurants, and the metro is a 15 minute walk away. We still drive down to Alexandria a lot, but we are happy with our temporary apartment in Arlington and we would definitely stay here again.

We bought a car to ship to Muscat, and that was kind of a mess. We decided to buy from CarMax and they made us jump through lots of hoops to buy a vehicle for export. I don’t really understand why, because why would they care what we do with car after we buy it? We could drive it off a cliff if we wanted to. The other serious car-buying hurdle was that Oman has very strict vehicle import rules on window tint and apparently it is actually impossible to get undarkened windows for some vehicles. It was a stressful pain in the butt, but we are now the proud owners of an ugly Honda named Jasmine (because the car is the same color as Jasmine’s clothes in the Disney version of Aladdin). Maybe the color will grow on me.

The weather in Arlington has been really gross and hot lately but I’ve been making myself go outside and try to learn to deal with it because Muscat will be even hotter. Right now it’s 95 degrees outside with a “feels like” temperature of 106 here. In Muscat it’s 92 degrees with a “feels like” of 112 and it’s NEARLY MIDNIGHT. How can that be?! I can’t just never go outside during the summer months there, so I’m trying to prepare to whatever extent that’s even possible.

Soon we will start our road trip back to the Midwest for Nate’s home leave. The idea behind home leave is “to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis,” according to the Foreign Affairs Manual. Where better to get reoriented and re-exposed to the US than in America’s heartland? One might think that perhaps staying in Virginia for the past two months might be enough re-exposure to life in these United States, but that’s not how it works. Home leave can be a little tricky because unless you happen to have a furnished vacant house someplace, you have to stay with family or find somewhere to stay. We are taking the stay-with-family route and hoping we don’t wear out our welcome along the way. At least with taking home leave now we’ll have a chance to stock up on some amazing cheese to bring to Muscat with us!

 

Our awesomely wonderful supplemental HHE shipment

There are some countries for which, if you are posted with the State Department, you get a consumables shipment.  A consumables shipment is an extra allotment of weight that you can use to buy things you will use up during your tour.  So it’s really great if you are already close to your weight limit and you’re going someplace where you can’t buy stuff like laundry detergent, wine, beer, liquor, peanut butter, and so forth.

You don’t get a consumables shipment for Bangladesh.  It’s not really the end of the world because you can get most things on the local market or at the commissary.

Even so, there are some things we wish we could get here more easily.  Like real maple syrup, chocolate chips, cheap sparkling water, good inexpensive jam, and scent and dye-free laundry detergent.

Luckily, State lets you do a supplemental HHE shipment if you are still within your first 12 months at post and you haven’t reached your HHE weight limit.  So when we were back in the U.S., we figured that since a moving company was already coming to do a layette shipment, why not have them do a supplemental HHE as well?  Plus, we’d already spent some time in Dhaka, so we had a good idea of what we needed.

We went to Trader Joe’s and it was, by far, the most fun I’ve ever had there in my life.  Anything and everything that I thought I might want to eat before May 2017 (and didn’t need to be refrigerated) went into the cart.  It was glorious. The limiting factor was the size of the cart; we stopped once we couldn’t fit anything else.

A cart full of amazingness!

A cart full of amazingness!

When Nate checked out, the cashier asked him if he was stocking a bomb shelter.  Because who doesn’t stock a bomb shelter with baking mixes, fancy crackers, whole wheat pasta, massive bars of chocolate, whole coffee beans, and cases of sparkling water?

Then we went another grocery store and stocked up on even more stuff.  Our cart was so heavy, I could barely push it.

The mini pack-out went well, other than a small incident in which Nate thought my dad’s cat Mango might have accidentally begun a global adventure in the shipping crate.  The movers left the crate open and Mango likes to explore new places, and Nate couldn’t find her after they left.  He called the moving company to ask if they had a stowaway cat, and they said they did not, but everyone still breathed a sigh of relief when Mango reappeared that evening.

Well, our supplemental HHE arrived a few weeks ago, and I’ll be damned if I did not actually squeal in delight as I opened some of the boxes.

It’s the things that I randomly tossed in the cart, like Trader Joe’s mini peanut butter cups, jars of fancy olives, scone baking mix, shelf-stable pepperoni, organic pumpkin pop tarts (why did I only grab one box?!) and dulce de leche that are the most exciting.

We also now have more maple syrup than we could possibly use over the next 15 months.  If you’re in Dhaka, and you want some real maple syrup, let me know!

The best part is that we no longer need to ration things.  We can pour as much syrup as we want on our pancakes, put salsa on everything, and not feel bad about pouring out the coffee at the bottom of the pot that we don’t drink.

And now it’s time to find some new pancake and maple syrup baking recipes to try, because I honestly don’t know what I was thinking when I bought that much maple syrup.

The day our stuff arrived (and what we’ve learned)

A few weeks ago, around 11 am, I was sitting at home, working, and Nate called. He’d checked on the status of our HHE, since it was supposed to be delivered that week. Apparently not only was our HHE in town, but it was also going to be delivered at 3 pm that day.

Later that afternoon, I found myself standing outside under an umbrella in the pouring rain, watching the movers open up our crate, which was inside one of those big shipping containers. After confirming that the number on the shipping container matched that in the records, I had to inspect the customs seal thing to verify that it hadn’t been opened and that the number matched the records. It all felt very The Wire, Season 2.

Then they opened the container, which was less than half full, and there was the huge wooden crate containing all our stuff. I stood there for at least 15 minutes, watching them try to open the crate, which was secured with metal bands that the movers hadn’t brought the equipment to cut through. Eventually they figured it out and pried the crate open, and they started bringing boxes upstairs to our apartment.

Just a few of the boxes

Just a few of the boxes

I’ll spare you the details of the unpacking process, but suffice to say I wish we’d gone through our things more thoroughly before we left the US. We tried, but got tired and decided we’d just handle it in Dhaka.

Not a good idea.

Here there is no place to easily drop off/donate unwanted clothing, and we can’t just put furniture or things we don’t want on the curb, because people don’t do that here. So we have to find somewhere in our apartment to store all these things that we don’t really even want or need anymore.

Also, we should have watched our U.S. movers a little more carefully because, while nothing arrived broken, there are definitely some things that were supposed to go into storage that are here in Dhaka instead. So far we’ve found old journals, family photo albums, my horseback riding gear, and curtains, and we haven’t even finished unpacking yet.

Believe it or not, we were able to make dinner in our kitchen that night

Believe it or not, we were able to make dinner in our kitchen that night

Plastic storage boxes are your friends. Especially the ones that slide under beds. We brought all of our clothes here, even winter jackets, boots, and sweaters, because you never know what could happen. We could be evacuated to a cold climate country in January, or take a trip someplace that has winter (oh, how I miss temperatures below 85) and then we’d need those clothes. But until then, they take up precious space in the tiny closets.

We are so glad we brought our mattress. The mattress provided by the embassy was comfortable, and neither of us were getting backaches or having problems sleeping, but once we put our own mattress on that bed, we realized what we’d been missing. Oh wow.

Our first pack-out was definitely a learning experience, and hopefully next time things will be a little easier. But, hey, at least nothing broke!

What to put in UAB?

It seems like so much of life in the Foreign Service, at this point, is having absolutely no idea what on earth you’re doing and figuring it out as you go.

When we packed up our house in Alexandria before moving to Dhaka, we divided our stuff into three general categories: UAB (unaccompanied baggage, or air freight), HHE (household equipment, or sea freight), and storage (which is stored at a storage facility somewhere in Virginia until you come back to the US).

We got 450 lbs of UAB, and we had no idea what to put in it. And how much is 450 lbs of stuff? What does that even look like?

There’s an art to packing UAB, since HHE usually doesn’t arrive until you’ve been at post for 2 to 3 months, sometimes longer.  I truly had no idea what to put in our UAB, and I’m sure there are other first time FSOs and EFMs wondering the same thing.

We decided to fill the UAB with things we use every day.  Nate and I both love cooking, so, for us, that was mostly kitchen stuff. I started tracking what I use the most often when I’m in the kitchen and what else we generally use on a regular basis. So that was basically:

  • Bed linens
  • Pillows
  • Towels
  • Blankets
  • Favorite pots and pans (one each nonstick, stainless steel, cast iron and Dutch oven)
  • Food processor
  • Knife block plus knives
  • Favorite bakeware (cake pans, loaf pans)
  • Wii and games
  • Stovetop spoon rest
  • Salt and pepper grinders
  • Dog beds
  • Hand mixer
  • Coffee bean grinder
  • French press
  • Umbrellas
  • Printer
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Yoga mat and block
  • Binder of favorite recipes
  • Record player and LPs

We cleared everything out of the dining room, which we designated as the UAB area, and just made a huge pile of stuff on the floor. Well, the movers packed all that and we still had an extra 150 pounds, at least, to fill.  So at the last minute Nate drove back to the hotel, grabbed our 2 biggest/heaviest suitcases, and drove back home.  We started pulling clothes out of the suitcases to make room in our luggage for other stuff that we knew we’d forgotten.  In addition to our original UAB pile, we added:

  • Hangers
  • Clothes
  • Shoes
  • PS3 and games
  • Glass mixing bowls
  • More pots and pans
  • Dish towels
  • Cloth napkins
  • Cookbooks
  • Wine glasses
  • Laundry basket
  • Laundry hamper
  • Boxing gloves (mine and Nate’s)

So, yeah, 450 pounds is a lot of stuff.  If I’d known we’d have more space, I would have been a little more strategic.  We wish we’d put the following in our UAB:

  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Cups
  • Silverware
  • Coffee cups
  • Cutting boards
  • Surge protectors

We got some dinnerware in our welcome kit, but there’s only 4 of everything.  As nice as it is to have plates to use, it would be really nice if there were more than 4.

Our UAB was delivered yesterday, which was, frankly, much quicker than we expected.  I thought we’d need to wait much longer than 10 days.  The delivery company had the boxes in our apartment in unpacked in less than an hour.  And nothing was broken and everything was in good shape!

Lots of random stuff waiting to be put away

Lots of random stuff waiting to be put away

I think Athena might have been even more excited than I was about the arrival of our UAB because she finally got all her dog beds (there are 4 of them).  She somehow rationed her naptime and spent at least an hour in each bed today, sometimes in more than one bed at a time.

She put these two beds together for optimum snuggles

She put these two beds together for optimum snuggles. Note the blurred wagging tail.

Nate’s glad his extra suits are here, I’m glad to have the kitchen back in place, and Athena loves having more beds than she needs.  Our apartment is finally starting to feel like home!

All our bags were packed

Our pack-out is done.

We’ve handed the keys over to our property manager.

Athena has her health certificate.

Flight confirmations for all three of us have been printed.

That’s right, we are finally ready to leave!!!

I was dreading our pack-out.  You hear horror stories about passports getting packed in HHE, or trash (like, out of the trashcan) going into storage.  Packers going through your house like Tasmanian devils, breaking and stealing your stuff along the way.  For us, it turned out that the movers showing up and packing/moving everything was the easiest part.  Prepping for them to come sucked big time, but the crew of four that packed and moved us out of our house was courteous, careful, and competent. Although we haven’t yet received any of the stuff they packed, so who’s to say they didn’t steal something or break anything.  But from our impressions that day, they seemed pretty good.

I had the house professionally cleaned yesterday, which was easily the best $215 I’ve ever spent.  Angie’s List, for the win! After that, we did a few more painting touch-ups and yard work, and we officially handed over the keys to the property management company.  It should be on the market soon, and hopefully we’ll have renters in no time.

Athena went to the vet yesterday to have her teeth cleaned and to get her final health certificate.  We had to decrease her food so that she would weigh less than 45 pounds, and she weighed in at 42.8.  I feel terrible for making her lose more weight than necessary, but at least now we don’t need to worry about her flying on Qatar Airways with its ridiculous 32 kg weight maximum.  Her crate weighs a whopping 26 lbs and is so big I could fit in it.  But she’s tall and leggy, and she needed a taller crate than the travel crate we already own.  So that’s all squared away and good to go!

My last day of work is tomorrow, and then we’re off.  It’s pretty crazy how quickly time has flown.

Now we just need to deal with a hotel room so full of stuff, it looks like we’re squatting.  Hurray for the digital luggage scale!

Almost ready-to-rent

The worst part of moving to Dhaka has easily been getting our house ready to rent.

Seriously, what a pain in the ass.

I used Angie’s List to find most of the contractors, and almost all of them were pretty good.  Here’s a list of everything we did to our property:

  • Repaint entire interior
  • Repaint exterior door frame and foundation
  • Power-wash, sand, repaint deck
  • Power-wash all walkways and driveway
  • Reinstall toilet
  • Replace toilet seat
  • Snake bathtub drain
  • Repair leaky faucets outside and in bathroom sink
  • Redo water connections for shower
  • Replace washing machine tubing
  • Cap dishwasher output valve and remove connection
  • Repair drywall in master bedroom
  • Caulk bathtub
  • Caulk kitchen sink
  • Remedy leaking problem in bathroom and bedroom windows
  • Caulk exterior bedroom windows
  • Replace deck railing
  • Replace deck stairs
  • Weed garden beds
  • Replace mulch in garden beds
  • Fumigate interior and exterior
  • Steam-clean carpets (still to be done)

The items in bold we did ourselves, and it probably doesn’t look like a lot.  But I power-washed, sanded and repainted the deck all by myself.  It was mind-numbingly terrible and only confirmed that I really hate painting.  The worst part about all of it was that I skipped FACT training so I could spend a few more days in the office and then finish the deck.  So every time I talked to Nate he’d tell me what a great time he was having, when I was not exactly having fun working on the deck.

The deck, partially painted.

The deck, partially painted.

The painting company I used for most of the interior work was less-than-stellar.  They were supposed to come on a Monday several weeks ago to paint the entire interior.  Monday came and went; they never showed up. Finally they came on Friday, the same day as my mother-in-law’s retirement party, and the day before our going away party.  They worked from 8 am until 6:15 pm, and left absolute destruction in their wake.  We got to the retirement party late and stressed out, and then had to go home to clean all the floors, which were a mess. On Sunday the painters showed up at 8 am, when we were still asleep.  They scrapped most of the paint off the floor, in addition to the floor finish in several areas.  They also primed a wall in the kitchen that needed primer before being painted, which the original painted neglected to do.  A few days later the company owner came back (again) when I sent him an email telling him he needed to fix the floors where they’d ruined the finish.  At this point, I got a pretty surly.  But after threatening him with a bad Angie’s List review, he started responding a lot more quickly and was more courteous.

Ultimately, the painting that needed to get done got done, with Nate and I painting the trim, doors, basement, and doing ceiling touch-ups. In fact, I think Nate is at home now painting what’s left of the basement.

One of the most noticeable changes was the new toilet seat. I never had to hear the toilet seat slam down after that.  And I did it myself!

The one thing we just don’t have time to do is steam-clean the carpets.  Our property manager said he has a company who does it inexpensively, so we’ll just have them do that after we’ve moved everything out.

It’s too bad that our house and yard look the nicest they’ve looked since we moved in and we’re not even going to be living here anymore.  But, hey, if it means our home will attract potential renters more quickly and easily, then I’ll take it!

Eating all the food

We leave in exactly a month.  Thirty days!

In addition to the usual holy-shit-we-need-to-do-this-now craziness of getting ready for a big move, we are also attempting to clean out the freezer.  I inventoried our freezer contents last weekend, and the good news is that we don’t need to do that much grocery shopping over the next few weeks.  The bad news is that there’s lots of random crap in there.

Some things are easier to deal with than others, like frozen pizza.  All you have to do is, obviously, bake the pizza.  Today I had pumpkin soup that I’m pretty sure I made in November for lunch.  It was still really tasty, surprisingly.

Tonight we are using up one of two packages of ground turkey and some fresh bread crumbs by making turkey meatloaf.  This will also help use up the ridiculously large amount of ketchup that we still have.  We also have tons of fresh berries in the freezer and pastry crust, so I’m also making a sour cherry crostata.

Some things I’m glad to have an excuse to use, like the leftover roasted pumpkin and cranberries.  I’ll bake up something yummy and not feel guilty because I had to use the stuff in the freezer.  Waste not, want not.  Also a random package of breakfast sausage which is so unhealthy we would typically never buy it.  But I think I bought it one year for stuffing and didn’t use it, so one morning we will have eggs and sausage.

We also have about six cups of roasted corn in the freezer.  I think a corn chowder is in our future… some of that frozen bacon (we have four packs) would go well in corn chowder too.

Not freezer-related, we also have far more open bottles of liquor than we could ever possibly manage to drink.  We are having a party a few weeks before we leave, the main purpose of which is to make other people drink our alcohol.  Whatever doesn’t get drunk we will probably give to our neighbors.  Perhaps as a form of payment for watching over our house until it gets rented.

 

Moving right along

We leave in less than two months.

I’ve given my job notice of my departure date. [Although I still don’t have definite full-time work in Dhaka, which is worrisome because, hello, student loan payments.]

Our flight to Dhaka is reserved. [We selected the only route we can safely take Athena on.]

Our pack-out is scheduled. [We still have lots of stuff to sort through and sell/donate/give away/trash.]

Athena has her no-objection import certificate. [But we might need to buy her a bigger crate, which will put us over the 30 kg weight maximum.  Also her import certificate says she’s yellow, but she’s black, so we need to get that fixed too.]

We’ve gotten our vaccinations. [Ouch.]

We’ve selected a property management company. [We’re making a dent in the home repairs, while watching our checking account balance shrink.]

Nate passed his Bangla test. [WAHOOOOOO!]

Things are coming together quickly, and we’ll be leaving before we know it.  We are so excited and very much ready for our next adventure!

 

Sorting stuff and more stuff

In less than four months we are moving to Dhaka.  It’s getting real!

We have started going through all the stuff we’ve accumulated since we finished Peace Corps and before.  I’m amazed by the amount of crap I’ve kept over time.  I still have my undergraduate textbooks and language workbooks.

Some things I’m glad I kept, like the map of Moldova that PC gave us when we first arrived in country, and all the random photos and cards.  I’m not entirely sure why I kept my notebooks from undergrad, but they did make for an interesting read before going into the recycling.  I also found several rolls of films that I shot in Moldova, and I need to get the photos put on CDs before we move.

A few weeks ago I took down our Christmas decorations and sorted everything into plastic containers for either storage or the cargo ship.  In addition to extremely breakable or sentimental Christmas ornaments, we are also putting all our inherited china and crystal and anything else irreplaceable into storage.

We have been in touch with the embassy regarding bringing Athena with us.  It seems like all we need is her vaccination history and a generic health certificate, but, honestly, I don’t know.  We are planning to send the documentation in about a month earlier than necessary to give ourselves some time in case they need anything else.  Also I guess there’s an international microchip that’s required for a lot of countries, but not Bangladesh.  I think when we take Athena in for her health certificate we will get the microchip anyways, because she’ll need it for later posts and if we can take care of it now, that’ll probably be easiest.

Ha.  I just read the paragraph above and it’s clear there are still a lot of questions.  I didn’t know I had so many different ways of communicating uncertainty.  “It seems like,” “I don’t know,” “I guess,” “I think,” “in case”… we will figure it all out eventually!

 

Athena basking in her favorite spot in the yard on a warm sunny day!

Athena basking in her favorite spot in the yard on a warm sunny day!