A stranger in a strange land

SAUSAGE!!! BACON!!!!!

We arrived in the DC area a few weeks ago. This is our first time back to the US in nearly two years, and it’s the longest I’ve been outside the US. I’m sitting here at Whole Foods eating sushi for lunch, and since coming back I’ve been struck by a number of things that are weird, crazy, or otherwise note-worthy.

Here you go, in no real order:

  • Decision paralysis is real. Too many choices. I’ve spent a lot of time  wandering around grocery stores staring blankly because I can’t make a choice
  • Amazon Prime at Whole Foods. WTH? How does this work? Must figure this out
  • Motorized scooters everywhere. Jury is still out on where or not this is good. Definitely better than Segways, but is walking really so terrible?
  • Luggage carts at Dulles cost $5. FIVE FUCKING DOLLARS. They are free in most of the rest of the world
  • Your Maserati/Porsche/fancy car doesn’t impress me. Stop driving like an asshole because you think you deserve to. Unless you’ve got a McLaren you are just a normal person with an oversized ego going through a midlife crisis
  • DC went through a heat wave. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA times infinity
  • Things got surprisingly existential at the Smithsonian. Cashier: “where are you visiting from?” Me thinking: “Huh. Ummmm…… Oman? We used to live here? Wisconsin? We’re not visiting? Fuck I have no clue what I’m supposed to say” My response: “we are in transit.” Cashier: “oh so you’re on a long road trip?” My response: “yeah something like that.”
  • The US is truly a glorious place. You can eat, drink, wear, be, believe, become and do what you want. That is a big deal. You don’t realize how incredible that is until you no longer have the freedom to make those choices. I walked down the street the other day in shorts and a tank top at 9 am, carrying a case of beer. You know who cared? NO ONE. On another note, sadly, not everyone uses these freedoms for good. And that’s fucked up. We’ve been back for less than three weeks and there have already been at least three mass shootings that I know about. I’m glad we’re going back overseas ASAP.
  • Apparently you can wear a bra and no shirt in public and this is acceptable. Um whaaaaat. I don’t consider myself to be stodgy or old fashioned, but this is absolutely ludicrous.
  • Alcoholic seltzer water is a new and glorious invention. I was at Whole Foods (see several bullet points prior) and the sparkling water was enticing, but ridiculously expensive. Upon further examination, it was 5% ABV. Oooooohhhhhh.

Yeah, it is good to be back. It was hard to leave Oman, but now that we’ve left I’m able to move on more easily. We are looking forward to our adventures ahead, and to our remaining time in the US before going on to Windhoek!

I almost bought one of everything.

Once again, one of everything, please.

The source of my decision paralysis. I went with sushi.

I’ll admit: I’m curious.

So. Many. Choices.

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Jebel camping and PCS feelings

Sunset over Jebel Akhdar at the Alila

Oh, man. Things here have been nuts. I’m apparently terrible at following my own advice, and I’m scrambling to get everything done. In addition to stress-shopping at the souk whenever I get the chance. I just bought eight hand-painted (supposedly) Turkish bowls and plates that I don’t really need. But they’re very pretty and I will eventually use them, I swear.

Which one should I buy? How about all of them?!

We’ve been filling up the time with squeezing in as many more Oman adventures as we can. We recently got back from a four-day trip to Jebel Akhdar, and it  was more incredible than I’d even imagined. We spent the first night camping and then we spent two nights at the Alila, which was running an insanely awesome special. If you spent two or more nights, it was 99 OMR (about $250) for the room, plus breakfast and dinner. This is a hotel where the rack-rate for the cheapest room and just breakfast is over $700. It was easily one of the most delightful hotel experiences I’ve ever had, and definitely the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in.

Endless skies at Jebel Akhdar

I think sometimes people tend to forget that the mountains are so much more temperate than Muscat, because when we went to both Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar there was hardly anyone there. The temperatures were downright pleasant and it was perfect hiking and camping weather. I even had to wear long sleeves at night!

Sunrise over Jebel Shams

Our campsite on Jebel Shams was stunning. We were perched along the rim of the canyon, but with enough rocks and ledges just over the side that  the kids weren’t in danger of immediate death if they went over the side. The views were incredible, and everyone had fun keeping the goats away from our campsite. The goat deterrent methods of choice where to run after them banging pots and pans, or to just throw your arms in the air and run after them screaming bloody murder.

Goats and tents on the edge of the Grand Canyon of Arabia

The only problem came around 10:30 pm when a raging wind picked up and started battering our tent. Nate and I are not small lithe people and our tent and cots, plus M in his pack and play and our bodyweight was easily  more than 400 pounds. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel the edge of the tent picking up and moving my cot. It was terrifying. I was so worried that our tent was going to be blown over the side of the canyon. Nate assured me that that was physically impossible unless a tornado picked us up, but I lay there watching the wind rattle our tent like a salt shaker and resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to be able to sleep that night.

Eventually I did fall asleep, only to be woken up by the sunrise at 5 am. Fun times. At least there was hot coffee and sausage gravy with croissants for breakfast! We don’t kid around when it comes to camping cuisine. That reminds me: I should do a post on all the incredible campfire food we’ve made.

Breakfast with a view

Anyhow, the following weekend we camped on Jebel Akhdar, where there are a number of areas for camping. We chose one with higher elevation because it would mean cooler temperatures, and we found a plateau area with huge trees perfect for camping. We positioned the tent so that it would be shaded in the morning, and the tent stayed cool until we packed it up around 10 am. First time that’s happened in Oman!

Our tent is in the shade!!!

M loved this campsite because it was full of flat rocks and creepy-crawlies. Spiders, lizards, butterflies, beetles, ants, etc. We let him run around, jumping from rock to rock and exploring while we cooked dinner and finished off some of the wine we brought back from France last year. We all slept like babies and woke up at 5:45 am when it sounded like a herd of donkeys was running around outside our tent. I sat up and looked out the window, and this was, in fact, the case.

Donkeys, taken through the tent window at 5:45 am

With these camping trips behind us, we’ve basically finished all our big Oman adventures. We’ve checked almost everything off the bucket list, and now we’re wrapping things up. We’ve sold our cars and our nanny has signed a contract with a new family. We got our Windhoek housing assignment, made a downpayment on a car, and we’re interviewing housekeepers/nannies.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been sucked up into a whirlwind of crazy forward momentum when all I want to do is slow down and savor everything. We have such a short amount of time in the States, it’s going to be utterly insane, and before I know it we’ll be in Windhoek. There’s a certain amount of excitement and giddy anticipation that comes with any move, but also trepidation and dread. Moving to a brand-spanking new country is scary: making friends, finding new favorite restaurants, figuring out what you can buy at which grocery store, finding the best routes for walking Athena, driving on the other side of the street, adjusting to new jobs, getting M situated at school, etc. At least in Windhoek I’ll be able to comfort-eat bacon whenever I want. And there’s a wine bar five minutes from our new house.

Oh man, Oman. We’re not done with you yet! I plan on squeezing as much awesomeness as I can out of this incredible place.

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

Cramming it all in

I already miss my morning runs along the beach.

In my last post I mentioned making a list of all our remaining weekends so we can make sure we cross everything off our bucket list. At this point that strategy has been paying off and we’ve been able to visit several old favorites and also cross some new destinations off the list! I’m not letting myself go down the “this is the last time I’ll ever see x, y, or z” path because that would just be too depressing. Instead I’m enjoying every minute and soaking in as much as I can.

One of my favorite views in Oman: The Al Ain beehive tombs and Jebel Misht

A few weeks ago we went back to Wadi Damm and I was reminded of why it’s easily one of my favorite wadi hikes. It’s not too challenging (in fact, every time we figure out how to make the hike even easier) and the payoff with the beautiful pools at the end is top-notch. This last time we went a week after some big rain storms and I’ve never seen that much water in the wadi before. It was incredible. What’s usually a dry drive was full of splashing through puddles and streams. On the hike out of the wadi we got to talking with some young Omani men and they invited us to share lunch with them. Two hours later, we left the wadi stuffed with watermelon, rice, and chicken. We topped if off by stopping to explore some new ruins that, somehow, we’d never noticed before. The road that leads to Wadi Damm is quickly becoming one of my favorite roads in Oman, there’s so much neat stuff to do off of it. Plus, there’s a really nice clean public toilet that even has toilet paper!

Wadi Damm

How had we never noticed this huge ruined village right beside the road?!

Date palm plantations and a small stream behind the ruins

We were planning to go to Thailand over Eid, but instead we’re going to stick around and squeeze everything we can out of our remaining time in Oman. We’ve done a lot of exploring, but it’s shocking how many new places there are to see! Last weekend we went to Ain Sahban, which deserves its own blog post. That place was incredible. We have plans to finally go camping at Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar, and to stay at one of the fancy mountain resorts. There are dive sites I haven’t been to yet that I want to try, ruins to wander through, and a few forts that look interesting.

Sunset by the Mutrah souk

The most scenic chunk of sidewalk in Muscat

I finally printed some of my favorite photos from our time in Oman, and I have plans to go to a framing shop. We’re so used to electronic copies of photos, sometimes it’s hard to remember to actually print them. I also finally took the gemstones I bought in Sri Lanka to a jeweler in the souk to get set and made into jewelry. I don’t know why I decided to save all these things to the last minute, but better late than never, I guess.

Taking care of business at the jeweler

We’re lucky we have an amazing onward assignment to look forward to. If we were going someplace crappy I don’t know I’d manage leaving here. I’d be an emotional basket case.

It can be hard to be present in the Foreign Service, and that’s something I’m really mindful of.  It’s easy to get caught up in the future and what’s coming, sometimes even if it’s a long ways away. But we haven’t left Oman yet: we are still here. I shouldn’t be sad about leaving when we still have 10 more weeks to make the most of and enjoy with our friends.

We are trying to eat as many masala dosas as we can before we leave

Departing means cleaning out the pork drawer in the freezer! Carnitas tacos, yummmmm.

PCS tips from someone who may or may not know what they’re doing

Dhaka pack-out: Just a few of the boxes 
 PCS, or permanent change of station, time is upon us! We are leaving in Oman in less than three months. Yikes. We are preparing for our third PCS and, while I am by no means an expert, I have some helpful advice for folks that are PCSing, especially for the first time. This is mostly in chronological order, and I hope it’s helpful!
Make a bucket list and strategize to get it all done. For me this meant that in January I made a list of all our remaining weekends in Oman and started planning what we were doing when. I know it sounds crazy, but I wanted to make sure we could fit it all in! Or maybe you have several big purchases to make, like art, furniture, or carpets. Make a budget and start finding the best places to procure what you’re looking for.

We made sure to find time to go back to Wadi Damm

Start sorting through your stuff several months ahead of time. This way you can sell things of value that you don’t want any more rather than frantically giving them away a few days before your pack-out.

Order the essentials and ship them several weeks before you are scheduled to arrive. Do an Amazon or jet.com box full of Tupperware containers, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, parchment paper, fluffy toilet paper, and whatever else you think you might need. Along these lines, change the address for your Amazon subscribe-and-save well in advance and then your subscribe-and-save items are there waiting for you.

Don’t spend too much time prepping for your pack-out. Yes, you should carefully consider what you want to put in UAB, but that’s about it. Put your UAB in a separate, easy-to-identify location and then let the movers do their thing. In normal circumstances, there’s no need for colored post-its, a careful labeling system, or any of that. Ultimately, all your shit will get packed and it will arrive where it’s supposed to. Unless the boat sinks or something.

Pack your suitcases and then shove them away in a bathroom with a sign on the door telling the movers not to enter. This way you know how much will fit in your luggage and you have all the necessities (for us this means passports, VPN router, my favorite kitchen knife, AppleTV, expensive jewelry, clothes, etc.) all in one place and you know they won’t get packed).

Watching all our stuff get packed up during our very first pack-out in Alexandria

Ship your mattress. I am so glad we did this. Nothing is worse than sleeping on a bad mattress for two years or more.

When you arrive, say “yes” to everything. Even if you’re tired or it seems like something you might not enjoy, do it anyways. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet the community members and learn more about life in your new location. It’ll be exhausting and sometimes challenging, but you never know when you’ll meet your new best friends.

Let the movers unpack the boxes. Put all the leaves in that dining room table and be prepared ahead of time! When things are strewn all around your house and everything is covered in stuff, you are much more likely to put everything away than you would be if it all stayed in the boxes. Also, it is so much easier when the movers take away the boxes and packing materials versus having to do it yourself. Maybe the idea of strangers touching all your stuff makes you uncomfortable, but at least have them unpack anything breakable. Otherwise you can’t document what arrived broken and you won’t be able to submit a claim.

Our kitchen in Dhaka after our HHE was delivered. Believe it or not, we were able to make dinner in our kitchen that night

Our kitchen in Muscat following HHE delivery. This is a great way to make sure everything gets put away as quickly as possible. As someone who likes an organized kitchen, this is hell.

Hi, my name is Kathryn and I have a china/glassware problem.

I hope this was helpful, and it’s time for me to start following my own advice!

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!

I’m not complaining about the weather!

The Omani flag flying high at Jabrin Castle

Things here have been busy. We had our first visitors over Thanksgiving, took our first local vacation, got scuba certified, and I’m training for my first real race since 2014. We’re also putting up Christmas decorations, going to parties, and I’m baking a lot of cookies. There is so much to blog about and just not enough time.

First things first, the weather here is currently perfect. Around mid-November it was like a switch flipped and the weather got awesome. It’s in the 60s in the morning, and by mid day it’s actually comfortable to be outside in the sun. We drive to work with the windows rolled down and I leave the kitchen door open when I’m cooking. During my morning runs, even the ones that last for over an hour, I don’t get hot. It’s a fricking miracle. When we first got here everyone told us that the weather in the winter would make the terrible heat worth it, and they were totally 100% right. This is currently my climate paradise and it’s amazing.

In my last blog post I was whining about how our stuff wasn’t here yet. The following week it arrived, and never in my life have I been so excited to see our stuff. I actually clapped when they unpacked my sari stamp block mirror that we had made in Dhaka. I unpacked and put away almost everything within about three weeks, and we got rid of a lot of stuff. There are clothing donation bins all over our neighborhood, and we probably donated a few hundred pounds of clothes and shoes. We don’t have tons of storage space, so I turned off the water to two of our four showers and they are now perfect for storing large plastic boxes. With our books on the shelves, stuff put away, and pictures and art on the walls, and our house finally feels like home.

Sunrise in Muscat

I’m training for a half marathon and so far it’s going well. My weekly milage is building, slowly but surely, and I have stayed injury-free (knock on wood). While waking up at the crack of dawn kind of sucks, I love running here now that the weather is perfect. Running along the ocean, watching the sun rise over the mountains and hearing only the sound of the waves and my own breathing is amazing every time. I will never take this for granted and if I ever do, someone please punch me.

Bimmah sinkhole

Some friends from Dhaka came to visit over Thanksgiving and it was so much fun. They only stayed for three days, but we packed as many Oman highlights as we could into the long weekend and everyone had a great time. We spent most of the first day at our favorite beach and then we went to Thanksgiving dinner. The next day we woke up bright and early and drove to Bimmah Sinkhole, followed by Wadi Shab, and on their last day here we drove to Nizwa and then checked out Jabrin Castle.  Oman is such an incredible and beautiful country (and there’s still so much we haven’t even seen yet!), and showing visitors and friends our favorite parts is so much fun. Seeing the wonder and amazement reflected on someone’s face and knowing that they are just as fascinated as you are is pretty cool.

The sun setting over the Wadi Shab entrance (and freeway)

There’s still so much more to say, but I have to get back to baking Christmas cookies!

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.

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.