Letters from Moldova

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

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

June 21, 2005

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

August 26, 2005

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

September 13, 2005

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

October 4, 2005

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

December 11, 2005

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

January 21, 2006

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

January 26, 2006

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

March 2, 2006

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

May 4, 2006

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

Returning to DIT-2

Usually the parking lot is packed with cars.  I had no idea there was a fountain.

Usually the parking lot is packed with cars. I had no idea there was a fountain.

Before I left in August on OB medevac, I went to DIT-2 fairly often.  Then the unpleasantness happened, and DIT-2 was outside of the red line and, therefore, out-of-bounds.

Recently, the red line shifted, and now we can go to DIT-2 again.  And that is kind of a big deal because now I can resume buying jewelry with reckless abandon.  Nate is thrilled.

A small sample of the pearls available here

A small sample of the pearls available here

I can’t mention DIT-2 without talking about the last time I went there before flying back to the U.S. It was a Sunday in the beginning of August, around 10 a.m., and it had rained a ton overnight.  Most stores are closed on Sundays, and a large part of the DIT-2 parking lot was roped off, so my driver dropped me off near the curb in an area loaded with enormous puddles.  At this point I was 33 weeks pregnant and my sense of balance was… off.  Anyways, I thought it would be a good idea to leap over one of the puddles, so I aimed carefully and jumped over a puddle probably five feet wide.

Except my foot didn’t hit the spot it was supposed to.  In fact, it landed in an underwater pothole full of six inches of water and I hit the ground in a spectacular fashion.  All I can say is thank god I decided to wear pants that day instead of a skirt.

I fell on my knee and banged it up so badly, it was sore for several months and, now, over six months later, it is still red and scarred.  My handbag and shoes got filled with water and I twisted my other ankle, scrapped my hands, tore my pants and got blood everywhere.

Fun times.

As much as I’m glad we can go back to DIT-2, I think the vendors are even happier.  I have a jewelry vendor that is my favorite, and he was very excited to see me.  Undoubtedly because he knows I’m an easy mark.  Anyhow, here are some photos from my most recent trip to DIT-2.

The DIT-2 Anthropologie of knobs

The DIT-2 Anthropologie of knobs

Compasses and other ship paraphernalia

Compasses and other ship paraphernalia

Sari stamps

Sari stamps

Lots of brass stuff

Lots of brass stuff.  I wonder if that gramophone works.

 

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.

Thailand vacation: Dolphin Bay

A sight for sore eyes!

A sight for sore eyes!

After a few days in Bangkok, we headed to Dolphin Bay Resort, around 3 hours south of Bangkok, and about 30 minutes south of Hua Hin.  We wanted to go to a beach within driving distance of Bangkok where we could just relax and do nothing, and this fit the bill perfectly.

The hotel (it’s definitely not a resort, despite the name) is across the street from the beach, and has a few salt water pools and a good restaurant.  The beach isn’t the pristine aqua blue water beach that you see in the Thailand guidebooks, but it was shallow, there weren’t many waves, and the water was nice and warm.

There were massive jellyfish that washed up on shore  each afternoon as the tide was going out, but luckily we didn’t encounter any in the water.

The view down the beach across the street from Dolphin Bay Resort

The view down the beach across the street from Dolphin Bay Resort

It’s definitely a family-friendly hotel, and everyone there either had kids or was retired.  There are a bunch of excursions you can go on, and we would have taken advantage of that if we thought M could have handled it.  But we were pushing the baby envelope enough by introducing him to water, sand, heat, having to wear a hat, and swimming pools all at one time.  So we just hung out on the beach, by the pool, and in our air-conditioned hotel room.

The hotel also has a spa  where you can get Thai massages and other stuff.  One afternoon we took turns watching M and each of us got an hour-long massage.  It was heavenly.

If I’m being honest, my favorite thing about the hotel was going downstairs every morning for breakfast and being greeted with the smell of bacon.  Every morning, I ate bacon.  It was wonderful.

The hotel restaurant was good, not spectacular, and slightly expensive for Thailand, but inexpensive for a hotel restaurant.  The panang curry, however, was extraordinary, and I can be picky about restaurant food.  The burgers were also better than expected.

After a few days of eating at the hotel restaurant, we decided to venture out a little, and we discovered a wonderful place called Meaw Restaurant that had tables and chairs set up in the sand by the beach.  The food was better and less expensive than our hotel, so we went back for lunch and dinner every day after that.  Plus the waitress would bring our food and then take M, fan him, and coo at him while we ate.

We almost didn’t give Meaw Restaurant a try simply because of the name.  It looked too much like “meow,” which is a little ridiculous, but we wouldn’t go to a Woof Restaurant or a Neigh Restaurant, so there you go.

One night while we were eating dinner at Meaw, a very nice young lady asked if she could hold M.  We said yes. Then she gestured, asking if she could take him to the open-air bar next door.  She seemed harmless enough so we said yes (questionable parenting choice? maybe.), and she was back less than a minute later because M was starting to get fussy.  Apparently she walked up to a dude there, claimed M was his, and that he needed to give her money.  Ha!

Overall, we had a nice, relaxing vacation in Thailand, to the extent that that is possible with a baby. Neither of us wanted to leave!

Thailand vacation: Bangkok

We had a chance to get out of Dhaka for about a week, so we headed to Thailand.  Since this was our first “vacation” with M, we wanted someplace where we wouldn’t have to do too much in order to have a nice, relaxing time.

Grand palace (1 of 1)

Temples in the Grand Palace complex

We spent a few nights in Bangkok when we arrived, and then another night the day before we flew back to Dhaka.  We had one full day before heading to our hotel on the beach, and I thought it would be feasible for us to see the Grand Palace and one of the other temples.  Well, we decided to shlep to a bagel shop for breakfast that was further away than we thought (everything looks so close on the map… but it’s not) so we didn’t get in a taxi to go to the palace until about noon, and then traffic was horrid.  We arrived at the palace around 1:00, made our way through the literal hordes of tourists, and by 3:00, M had reached the end of his baby rope and was screaming bloody murder.  So we hopped in the first taxi we found and went back to the hotel.  We knowingly fell victim to a common taxi scam where the driver quotes you a flat rate probably twice the price it would cost with the meter running, but we needed air conditioning as fast a possible, so whatever.

Grand palace2 (1 of 1)

The entrance to the Emerald Buddha temple. Except it’s actually made of jade.

We didn’t make it to the other temple I wanted to visit, so I guess I’ll have to wait until the next time we’re in Bangkok to see the world’s second largest reclining Buddha.  That’s traveling with a baby: you are no longer in charge.

The main highlight of our visit to Bangkok was finally getting to see Star Wars.  Nate cared about this more than pretty much anything else, so we utilized the hotel babysitting service and went to a nearby theater. The total cost for 4.5 hours of babysitting, movie tickets for 7:30 on a Friday night at a nice theater, popcorn and soda was about $55!  In the U.S. it would have been at least double that.

Oh, we also found this nice grocery store called Food Hall or something like that, and I was in grocery store heaven.  It was aaaaaamazing.  It was basically a Thai Whole Foods, and I bought mangosteens, avocados, dried fruit, and Ghiradelli chocolate chips to bring back to Dhaka.

I could have spent another hour there, at least, but once again M insisted that things be done on his schedule (are you sensing a theme here?). I’m making the kid sound like a terror, but really he wasn’t that bad.  He did a good job considering how much time he spent in his Ergo and how stinking hot it was.  And honestly, there were times when he cried that I would have cried too, I was so hot and tired of the crowds, but it’s not socially unacceptable for adults to do that.

The first two nights we stayed at Ibis Siam, which is super convenient if you want to get out and walk around and do stuff, with a sky train station practically in front of the hotel.  There’s also a 7-Eleven in the lobby, which was awesome.

The night before we flew home, we stayed at the Swissotel Nai Lert Park, and it was fabulous.  I booked it specifically because the hotel had a babysitting service, and the more I thought about using a hotel babysitter, the more nervous I got, but the babysitter was a very kindly older Thai lady that M took to immediately.  When we got back from the movie, he was in his pajamas, sleeping soundly.  This hotel also has an amazing pool and a super tasty breakfast.  I ate so much for breakfast (crepes! pastries! donuts! bacon! waffles! roasted pork! dude, they even had dim sum!) , if I’d eaten another bite my stomach would have exploded.

Not the best photo, but you get the idea

Not the best photo of the Swissotel’s pool, but you get the idea

We booked the hotels through Agoda.com, which has the best rates I’ve ever been able to find anywhere.

Also, if anyone else is like “OOOOOO there’s a bagel shop in Bangkok?!” here you go: BKK Bagel Bakery near the Chit Lom BTS station.  It’s near the Haagen-Dazs, kind of on a side-street, next to the Kipling Store.  We bought a baker’s dozen to bring back to Dhaka with us, and they are actually pretty darn good bagels.  The sandwiches in the store are also tasty.

We really liked Bangkok, and since it’s so easy to get to, I know we’ll be back!

On being an EFM

Nate and I are equals.  Neither of us is more important than the other, and we have a lot of respect for each other.  Our relationship wouldn’t work any other way.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in the Foreign Service. Nate is the FSO, and I am the EFM (eligible family member), or, even worse, the “trailing spouse.”

I just started typing a list of why being an EFM sucks, but it was super-whiny and I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me (too hard, anyways). So I deleted it.  I’ll simply say this: being an EFM has its ups and downs.

The reason I mention this is because on a Facebook group for EFMs, FSOs, and others involved in the US’s diplomatic mission, someone recently asked if there were other EFMs that didn’t like the FS lifestyle.  The moving, being far from family, living in other countries, etc.

Wow, were the responses interesting.  Some people truly hate it.  I mean, with a level of vitriol that I found shocking.

The Facebook post got me thinking about why we joined the FS and what my own EFM experience has been like.  Spoiler alert: It’s actually pretty great.  In fact, a lot of EFMs like the FS and appreciate the opportunities that it gives them.  Not everyone is miserable.

Granted, I get annoyed sometimes by the fact that I’m an EFM, but it’s generally not that bad.  It can be occasionally silly (like the fact that I can’t even request for the embassy to come and fix, for example, an air conditioner if it breaks), and I roll my eyes at FSOs that think they’re better than me, but I think of it as water off a duck’s back.  It just rolls off.

Yeah, moving frequently sucks, and having to readjust to a new country every few years probably isn’t easy.  And neither is being far from family, especially now that we have a baby.  On the other hand, we get to explore new countries, learn  new languages (which for some might be a chore, but I love it), and we have a nanny.

As with almost anything in life, there are positives and negatives to being an EFM in the FS.  I have a portable career in public health, and there are lots of mosquitoes in Bangladesh, so that’s good; we both love to travel and explore new countries; and it is important to me that our children be raised overseas. So for us, the FS was a good fit for both of us and our family.  If it wasn’t for Nate being an Officer, we wouldn’t get these opportunities.  We are in this situation because of him, not me.  I get that.

Am I content with my EFM status?  Yes and no.  On a day to day basis, and I happy?  Yes.  Can I ride out my EFM-ness because of the opportunities the Foreign Service gives me and my family?  Hell yes.

The mosquitoes

There have been shit tons of mosquitoes in our apartment lately.  We never open the windows and we have a screen door, but they still manage to get in somehow.

We have a mosquito racket, which is a lovely device that looks like a tennis racket, but you press a button and the mesh part becomes electric.  So you swipe at a mosquito, there’s a satisfying snapping sound, and the mosquito is dead.  Electrocuted, I suppose.  They get no sympathy from me.

For some reason the mosquitoes seem to prefer our bedroom over all the other rooms.  Luckily we have a net over our bed and M’s sleeper, but sometimes they get under the net.  Those nights are the worst.

Before we go to bed every night, we shake all the bedding, curtains, and drapes, and that usually rouses the nasty buggers.  One of us stands there with the racket, waving it all over the room, while the other anxiously points at the mosquitoes, shrieking “There it is!  Get it!” (I should note that Nate doesn’t shriek.  That’s primarily me.)

But the mosquitoes are so darn fast, they can be almost invisible.  So there’s a lot of frantic racket waving, pointing and yelling.  It’s quite the sight, I’m sure.  You know the night has been a success when the smell of burnt mosquito lingers in the air.

Luckily these aren’t Aedes moquitoes, so they won’t give us dengue.  But they’re still annoying. Thank goodness M hasn’t figured out how to itch mosquito bites yet.

Haha, I just got up to get something from the bedroom, and I killed another mosquito.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m looking forward to the intolerably hot summer months just because it seemed like there weren’t as many mosquitoes then.

Eight months in

Dude, we are one third done with our tour here!  A third!

The other day someone asked me what I thought of living here, and I said that I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it, which is pretty accurate at this point.

Before I left on OB medevac, I loved it.  I don’t anymore.  I’m hoping I’d be happier if they lift the walking restrictions, but who knows if that is ever going to happen. There are definite benefits to living here and I am in no way miserable, but I am also really looking forward to our next post, wherever it may be.

Athena had a small eye infection, but luckily we had some antibacterial eye ointment that we brought with us.  I’m really hoping she doesn’t get sick here or need any urgent medical care because I don’t know what we’d do.  I think the vet that helped Hootie would be our best bet.

It is currently “winter” in Bangladesh, which means that the temperatures in Dhaka are in the 70’s or 80’s during the day, and sometimes dip down into the 60’s at night.  Most Bangladeshis are wearing sweaters, scarves and jackets, and you’d think it was below freezing.  For the first time since we arrived, I finally feel comfortable outside in light-weight pants and a t-shirt.

The only problem is that now that we actually want to spend time outside, the air quality is terrible.  There’s a nearby tall apartment building, and when that building looks hazy from our house, I try to limit my time outdoors and I don’t take M outside at all. There are some days where you can almost taste the particulate matter in the air, and it sticks to the back of your throat.  It’s disgusting.

Those apartment buildings in the background are my air pollution barometer

Those apartment buildings in the background are my air pollution barometer

This sounds ridiculous, but I have been avoiding getting my hair cut here.  I like to keep my hair short, and I was worried that no one here would be able to cut it just right.  Considering that my general philosophy towards hair is “Who cares?  It will grow back,” this is particularly silly. A few days ago I got my hair cut by Andy at the Nordic Club and he did a great job!  And it was only 2000 taka (about $25), which is probably expensive for here, but it seemed like a bargain to me.

We experienced a small earthquake a few weeks ago; it was centered in northeast India and we felt the tremor here.  We woke up because Athena was freaking out, and within a minute everything started shaking.  M slept through it, and, aside from some crooked pictures on the walls, you wouldn’t even know it happened.  Thank god for seismically safe housing!

Nate and Athena also got stuck in the elevator recently.  That was scary.  I got a call from Nate telling me to go downstairs and tell the guards they were stuck in the elevator, and as I was rushing down the stairs with M in my arms, a guard and our driver Kalam were running up.  They pried the doors open, and Nate and Athena jumped down out of the elevator, which had apparently stopped after going up a few feet.  Nate was hurrying off to a reception, and I almost took M and Athena up alone, and that would have been a real disaster, especially since I usually don’t bring my phone with me when I go to the rooftop.

We are keeping busy and life is always eventful, sometimes in good ways, sometimes bad. Only 16 more months left to go!

Hootie is so owl-ish

So, remember how I mentioned the owls that fly around the field where we take Athena? A few days ago we were all at the field together, and I left to go get something from the car.  When I came back, Nate was pointing under a garbage can and motioning for me to speak quietly.

There was a small owl, maybe a ten inches tall, under the garbage can, and it wasn’t trying to fly away even though we were there with a squawking baby and a dog running around.  It looked like it was watching us and just trying to stay hidden.  The poor little owl was clearly injured.

See the small owl under the garbage can?

Trying to blend in with the garbage

When we got home, I asked on FaceBook what I should do about the injured owl, and someone mentioned that she’d talked to her vet, and if we could get the owl to him, he’d be able to help.  It was starting to get dark by that point, and we had no desire to try to extract a baby owl from the field when it’s enormous parents were flying overhead.

The next morning our driver, Kalam, and I went back to the field, equipped with a large old towel and a big cardboard box with ventilation holes poked in it.  The owl, who I have since named Hootie, saw us coming and tried to get away, but she could only fly about three feet.  Kalam tried to place the towel over her so he could pick her up, but Hootie wasn’t interested.

You know how it looks when you chase a chicken?  The chicken tries to fly, flapping it’s wings, doesn’t get far, and you dart around after it?  Maybe you’ve never chased a chicken, but that’s pretty much what happens. Anyways, that’s what it looked like as we (technically, Kalam) chased Hootie. Eventually he got the towel over her and he was able to gently pick her up and place her in the box.

The vet’s office is outside of the zone in which we are allowed to travel, so Kalam transported Hootie to the office and left her with some staff members until the vet was able to see her.  I talked to the vet that evening, and he said her wings were damaged, probably by boys throwing rocks at her.

The next day the vet called again and said they were letting Hootie go that evening.  She was not eating in captivity, and he felt that she had healed enough that she would be able to survive.  He said they could let her go at the university, where there is a forest and lots of green space, or that Kalam could pick her and we could let her go in the field, which is surrounded by apartment buildings.  I asked what would give her the best chance of survival, and he said he thought the forest at the university would be good for her.

Hopefully Hootie is learning how to fly and hunt like a good little owl should, and she will grow big and strong!

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.

IMG_6645

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!