How are you doing?

A Red Southern Bishop at Avis Dam. The wildlife in Namibia is interesting even though we can’t go anywhere, so here are some photos of some of the most commonly-seen animals around Windhoek!

No, really. How are you doing?

I hope you’re at least doing alright. The world is a crazy place right now, and this is a hard time.

We are okay / doing the best we can / muddling through / taking it day by day.

Some days are better than others. I’d say I’m better now than I was in the earlier days of our lockdown, mostly because I’ve figured out how to manage myself more effectively.*

I feel like I’m getting the hang of the whole working remotely thing. It’s all about accepting the imperfect/less-than-ideal and just going with the flow. We set up M’s art station next to my standing desk and sometimes he’ll sit down there and say he has work to do. Also I am totally at peace with his screen time amount. We both still have a lot of work to do and if watching Disney+ or playing a game on his kindle keeps him occupied while we’re both on calls, that’s just fine.

Lovebirds in the neighborhood

We spend most of the our weekends outside in our yard, watching movies, cooking more-time-consuming-than-normal food, or playing Gloomhaven.

I’ve enjoyed having time to dust off some cookbooks and try new dishes, or to finally cook the things in my NYT Cooking recipe box. Here are some of our favorite new recipes:

Gloomhaven is an awesome board game that we got last year when we had several Amazon gift cards lying around. We first tried to play it shortly after arriving in Windhoek when we were jet lagged and tired. It was such an extraordinarily confusing experience, we put it back in the cupboard and didn’t even think about playing it again until now. We figured that we’d have the time to finally sort through everything and we were right! It’s really fun, interesting, and it’s nice to currently have four days (we are at the end of a four-day holiday weekend) to work our way through it. There are like 95 different scenarios, and each scenario is its own game. They all build off each other, but you can just play one scenario and then put everything away; you don’t have to play the entire thing all at once.

Artie the Explorer!

I have never in my life been so grateful to have a dog. Artie has been a lifeline for all of us lately. Her persistent optimism, playfulness and happy demeanor give us all something to look forward to and she helps keep us busy. And she is M’s only non-adult companion right now. It’s hilarious watching them run around chasing each other. She is a saint.

So, yeah. That’s how we’re doing. Not great, not bad, basically fair-to-middling.

*This is basically through focusing on things that I can control and having “good” habits like reading books, walking Artie, making the bed, doing yoga, etc. Then I track it all. It helps me feel more intentional and productive.

Dassies, or rock hyraxes. The elephants’ closest relative!

COVID-19 in Namibia (as of 03 April)

A drink for our times, Namibia-style.

What a fucking crazy time.

For real.

There are currently 14 cases of COVID-19 in Namibia.  The reporting of confirmed cases has slowly been increasing in frequency and magnitude. It’s unclear to me how many are local transmission but there is no confirmed community transmission yet.*

We’ve decided that we are going to ride this pandemic out in Namibia. We are not going back to the US. (Unless we are forced to.) We are prepared to shelter-in-place in our house for months, we are ready to cut social in-person activities, and we have experience with the whole “no walking outside” thing, if it comes to that. We are ready. Is it crappy and will it get even crappier? Yes.

There were a number of factors to consider, many of which are, at this point, huge gaping question marks. But ultimately we decided that we are safer (both health-wise and emotionally) if we stay here. Only time will tell if we made the right decision. Or maybe we’ll go to Ordered Departure and then we will have to leave. Who knows. I have no idea what can/will happen.

We have some advantages here in Southern Africa**: we’ve watched this virus march across the planet and we’ve learned a lot from the responses of other countries. Many were slow to start testing and social distancing, quarantine advisories were implemented too late, and most countries didn’t do much until transmission was already out of control. Here, we’ve had time to practice habits like social distancing, washing our hands ALL THE TIME, less touching of faces, etc. Plus the science behind COVID-19 is improving and we are learning more and more. Will this work out to our advantage? We’ll see; only time will tell.

People around Namibia, including the government of Namibia, are taking this more seriously than I expected, honestly. About a week ago restrictions went into place. Nonessential shops are closed. You can’t buy alcohol. Restaurants are only open for take-out. No exercising or walking outside in groups of more than three people. Police are driving around enforcing the rules.  All points of entry into Namibia, with the exception of the international airport in Windhoek, will be closed for non-commercial travelers. These restrictions are in place until April 17.

We’ve been baking a lot over the past week. These cookies sprinkled with salt were a definite winner.

What will happen after that? Who knows. The epidemic in Namibia is only starting, and I can’t imagine that on April 18 the disease will magically disappear.

In the meantime we are working from home and who knows when M will go back to school. I have to keep reminding myself that this is hard for him too. He’d rather be at school, playing and learning with his teachers and friends, and going to dance and swimming classes than being cooped up at home with distracted, working parents who don’t always have time for him. Sometimes he gets upset, and we give him even more love and attention. There’s been a lot of hugging and talking about our feelings, much of which he initiates.

My new favorite coworker, lying beside my buffet-table-turned-standing-desk

There’s a fine line between staying up-to-date on the COVID-19 news and science, and getting drawn into a doom and gloom pit of despair. Here are some resources/websites I find helpful and look at daily:

  • Trying to stay up-to-date on information and public health measures for COVID-19? Look at the CDC website. I don’t like the WHO website;  I find it to be confusing and less helpful if you are a person who just wants info.
  • Trying to keep up-to-date on what the State Dept is doing? Check out Diplopundit.
  • Looking for a way to explain COVID-19 to your kids? I find this infocomic to be really helpful.
  • Looking for easily digestible graphs that explain COVID-19 epidemiology and trends? I like how the data is displayed on Information is Beautiful but it’s only updated once or twice a week.
  • Looking for better information than the Johns Hopkins tracker provides? Worldometer has a lot of helpful information by country, including cases per one million population, epi curves (new cases per day), mortality statistics, etc.

So, here we are. Who’d have thought we’d be in a situation with a global authorized departure. But this too shall pass, and at least this time we don’t have terrorists trying to kill us! There’s always a bright side.

*Local transmission is different from community transmission. Let’s say you are a tourist and you’re COVID-19 positive. If your receptionist/driver/etc gets COVID-19 from you that is local transmission. Community transmission is when a disease is transmitted from one person to another without a link to travel.

** We also have some major disadvantages here like poor/insufficient health care and some people that are malnourished or immunocompromised, etc. The baseline situation in Namibia is not cupcakes and rainbows.

I’m sorry, U.S. Mission China

As you probably know, we are in the middle of an outbreak of a novel strain of the coronavirus. It’s causing panic in many parts of the world, and mandatorily up-rooting everyone at U.S. Mission China who is under the age of 21. Hundreds of children and parents (but just one parent from each family, since the other probably has to stay behind and continue working, with the exception of the Wuhan consulate which evacuated fully), and other people from the Mission, are going back to the US, not knowing if/when they’ll get to go back and hoping that their spouse and friends stay safe.

Almost everyone in the State Department fears that their post will go on departure status. Departures, whether authorized (you can leave) or ordered (you have to leave), can happen for many reasons, including terrorism, political unrest, violence, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks, among others.  The fear is just: departures are no fun. The uncertainty, figuring out how/if you can take your pet, the sudden change, the general confusion, the threat on your safety/life, the worry; it fucking sucks.

I feel for the Mission China families. Seeing their pain on social media reminds me of my own and brings back a lot of really miserable memories. Fleeing a country that had become home, leaving behind everything and everyone precious to you, travelling for 24+ hours alone with a 10-month old, and trying to find a new normal isn’t easy.

When we evacuated from Dhaka, I didn’t write very much about it because it was so awful. I’ll never forget nearly bursting into tears when our flight landed at O’Hare and the pilot said, “Welcome to the United States of America.” I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. No one here was going to try to kill me.

Little did I know how hard the ensuing nine months would be. That sounds melodramatic, but it was truly the worst time of my life.

Sure, there were some bright spots. It was nice spending time with family and watching M bond with his grandparents. We saw Nate several times and that was always wonderful. I reconnected with some old friends and shopped at Target a lot. Like, A LOT.

But, for the most part, it was horrible. I felt so alone. I had not only completely overestimated my ability to make friends, but also how receptive people in a small town in middle America would be to an outsider like myself. I tried to make friends, but, for the most-part, nothing stuck.

About five months into our departure, my mom moved to a lovely town on Lake Michigan. Once we started spending most of our time with her, I finally started to feel like myself again (although, still, no friends) and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We facetimed with Nate every day. Whenever he didn’t respond, I immediately started worrying. Nothing bad happened in Dhaka after we left, thankfully, but that’s also enormously frustrating.  No one can see the future, but the fact that we would have been safe had we stayed still bugs me.

Hopefully we’ll never have to do another departure again. I’m glad that chapter of our lives is finished. But we always plan for the worst, and hope for the best.

The Duqm Rock Garden

Rocks. Yes, this is actually a tourist attraction.

Duqm, a coastal town in the middle of Oman, is an interesting place. And I mean interesting as in “Hmmm… that’s, uh, interesting….” Not “Wow, that’s so interesting!”

Oman is marketing Duqm as a “special economic zone,” and a bunch of fancy new (by which I mean expensive) hotels have been recently constructed there as they try to build up the shipping industry. I’ve been trying for a while to get a full picture of what exactly is the big deal with Duqm, and I guess the objective is to turn it into the port that everyone stops at on their way up towards the Strait of Hormuz or the Indian Ocean. Right now Dubai is the big hub, but Duqm is centrally located in a strategic position closer to shipping lanes.  That’s my understanding of it, anyways. I could be wrong.

We drove through Duqm on our way down to Salalah, and I’d read about the Duqm Rock Garden. It’s a huge space full of interesting rocks, and it seemed like a good place to stop and stretch our legs.

First, however, we had to figure out how to access it. It’s surrounded by a construction project, and finding our way to the parking lot involved driving through construction sites and turning where it looked like we probably shouldn’t.

Surprise! There is a real parking lot and even a sign.

Eventually we found our way to the parking lot, put M in his hiking pack, and walked into the park. At which point we discovered that the park has been overrun by aggressive feral dogs.

Nate and I are dog people, but these ones were scary. They started barking and running towards us, and we made a beeline for the car. You can drive into the park, so we decided we’d just drive around instead and enjoy the park from the safety of our vehicle.

We reached one particularly interesting area, and I decided to get out of the car for a few minutes to take a few pictures. I was maybe 100 meters from the car and I heard a dog barking, so I started hurrying back to the car. The barking got closer, and I started sprinting. I got to the car and could see I a dog perched on an outcropping, watching my every move.

The second of the two photos I took before I sprinted back to the car.

Between the mess that was figuring out how to access the Rock Garden and the potential mauling that one could get there, I’m going to say that a stop here is absolutely not worth it. But it makes for a good story.