Things that are bringing me joy right now

After some of my recent blog posts, you might think that things here are all doom and gloom. But they aren’t! There are some bright spots.

I love nothing more than a good list. So here’s what’s making me happy these days, in no particular order:

  • Cooking dinner. Really. Working from home gifts me an extra hour at least to make dinner. That means I can have a glass of wine, listen to a LP and leisurely spend some quality time in the kitchen by myself. And these days, my weekday dinner game is on fire.

    My favorite corner of our house

  • Listening to audio books. Specifically Calypso, written/read by David Sedaris. Wow is this book hilarious. The essays “The Perfect Fit” and “I’m Still Standing” particularly were my favorites. It’s poignant, funny and just awesome, exactly what you’d expect from David Sedaris. Other good ones include Children of Blood and Bone, The Song of Achilles, Bad Blood, and Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.
  • When Artie poops right by a house where a dog is barking at her. I don’t pick it up. One good turn deserves another. There’s this one house where there are three dogs that just go ape-shit every time we walk by. I wish she’d drop a big one there but she hasn’t yet.
  • Emptying out the vacuum cleaner canister. There are few things that make me feel more accomplished than getting visual confirmation of all the cleaning I’ve just done. It’s an obsession.
  • My “wine cellar.” I could call it our wine cellar, but I’m the one who, a) picked out all the wine, b) cares about it, and c) drinks most of it (Nate prefers beer). With our last lockdown, the sale of alcohol was prohibited. I wasn’t about to go through another lockdown rationing wine, hesitant to give it to friends in need lest I run out. So we currently have more than 150 bottles of wine in the garage. It’s glorious.

    Divided into boxes of red, white, rose, white bubbly and rose bubbly. I ran out of wine boxes so I used an empty camping gear box.

  • Dinnertime. We light candles, set the table and spend at least 30 minutes together, chitchatting. We listen to an LP, M tells us about the monsters he’s trained (he genuinely believes he is a monster trainer, and we’ve learned the hard way not to joke about it) and we tell stories or have a dinnertime poetry slam. M is surprisingly good at putting together fairly long rhyming poems on the fly. We talk about the gods (yes, plural) and more monsters, and we negotiate how many more bites he has to take before he gets dessert. It might not sound like much, but I do enjoy it.

    When we can’t go to restaurants, we create one at home

  • Care packages. A friend from Muscat recently sent us a box full of Trader Joes goodies and I almost cried. And the other day I was talking to my mom and I mentioned how much M has been drawing lately, and then two weeks later we got a care package full of sketchbooks and new markers.
  • Scouting out all the strange/ostentatious houses in our neighborhood. We live in a fancy part of Windhoek. This was actually one of the strangest things about our first Foreign Service tour: our house was in the rich neighborhood. This was not something I was used to. We can’t afford that shit. But most embassy housing is in the nicest neighborhoods because they are generally the safest. So I enjoy wandering the neighborhood, looking at the ridiculous houses and wondering how people have enough money to build houses like that. Or why exactly they’d want a house like that.

    Where did they get the money to build this?!

    What the heck?

  • Not wearing socks. Winter in Namibia is COLD. Surprisingly so. And despite being technically from Wisconsin, I am a child of the tropics. I grew up wearing flip-flops and my feet don’t like socks. They make my toenails, no matter how short they are, uncomfortable and they smell awful.  Hurray for summer (spring doesn’t exist here) and a happy sock-free existence.
  • Playing Gloomhaven. The box is enormous and super-heavy and the game costs nearly $100. But we bought it with Amazon gift cards, anticipating a day when we wouldn’t be able to leave the house much and it’d would be just the two of us. Let me tell you, Gloomhaven is SO WORTH IT. It’s like a choose-your-own adventure game with each round being completely different from the last. We each play two characters and at this point I am emotionally attached to mine (I named them Samantha the Scoundrel and Isaspella the Orchid Spellweaver). We set the game up on Saturday afternoons and play as many rounds as we can before putting it all way on Sunday night. It takes up the entire dinner table.
  • Planning future trips. We still have two R&Rs to take in the next 22 months, plus a lot of travel in Namibia that we want to do. Figuring out itineraries, the best places to stay, etc is my happy place.

Wow, that’s more than I expected, honestly.

The State of Emergency in Namibia has been lifted and things here are heading back towards “normal,” not because it’s epidemiologically warranted but because there’s no more public or political will for restrictions. Things were starting to improve but then they loosened all the restrictions at once and this past week kids went back to school. I hope there won’t be an increase in cases and that things were under control enough beforehand for it to not be a complete disaster, but we’ll see. In the meantime we wear our masks, take calculated risks and try to make the most of it. We are glad we can finally leave Windhoek again!

Six months with Artie

Artie surveying Lake Oanob.

How has it only been six months since we adopted Artie? She’s such a natural fit for our family, it’s like she’s always been here.

After Athena died, it took us a few months to realize we wanted another dog. So back in February I reached out to a friend who works at the SPCA, asking if she could suggest any dogs that would fit our criteria (less than 40 lbs, youngish but not a puppy, good with kids) and she sent a short list. We went to the SPCA on a Friday afternoon and Artie, at that point her name was Keily, was not a dog I would have even noticed had her name not been on the list. But she seemed friendly and relaxed, and we took her into a little garden area to spend some off-leash time with her. She didn’t mind M and when I bent down and called her over she came running with her tail wagging. Which is more than you’ll get from lots of other dogs.

Nate and I looked at each other and were like “She’ll do.”

Often running, always happy

The next day we went back, signed the papers, got her microchipped and the rest is history.

Her easy-going, happy, playful personality and natural recall make her an all-around fun dog. She’s a great camping companion; she keeps an eye on M, goes exploring with him and she’s happy to snuggle up by the campfire at night. When we holler for her and shake a bag of treats she runs back so quickly you hardly realize she’d wandered off. And she does a GREAT job of keeping rock hyraxes, birds and all other wildlife away from the campsite.

Giving me a heart attack at Spitzkoppe (photo by B. Johnson)

She’s so amiable we’ve been lazy about training her. She knows “sit,” but that’s about it. We’ve decided to train her while we’re on lockdown for the next few weeks (months?), and she’s making fast progress. She still pees in the house from time to time but we’re working on that.

More exploring at Spitzkoppe

Artie is also officially a garbage dog. You can take the dog off the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of the dog. She will leave kibble in her bowl for hours and turn her nose up at treats. But if she finds a chicken bone or anything even remotely edible outside, she’ll eat it before you even realized it was there. And may the gods help you if you leave the trash sitting by the door and don’t immediately take it to the bin outside.

But no dog is perfect and these are flaws we can live with. If the past six months are any indication, the next decade with Artie is going be great. We love you, Artie Fartie!

Our girl Artie

Something not COVID-19

A rainbow over a Windhoek hillside

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

Deep exhale. Anyway.

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

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

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

Surveying the territory

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

A disgusting armored bush cricket

Another common southern African insect: the harmless but creepy chilongo

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

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

Flowers!!! Grass!!!

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

Omajovas growing on the base of a termite mound

The most phallic mushrooms you’ll ever see.

Peeled, after a night in the fridge to bloom.

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

Artie on a fall-is evening walk

Welcome home, Artie

Our newest family member!

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

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

So, what did we do? 

We got another dog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We love you, Artie!