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.

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!

At home, finally

Sunset from the back yard

We’ve been here in Windhoek for nearly four months, and it’s feels like home. We’re developing weekend routines, weekdays are starting to feel less insane, and I don’t need to use Google Maps to go everywhere.

Pandemonium in the living room on HHE delivery and unpacking day

Our sea freight shipment, or HHE, arrived just about a month ago, and it’s already 90% put away. Our house here has lots of built-in storage space and a huge kitchen, plus a garage (a garage!!!! We’ve never had a garage before!), so it was surprisingly easy to find places to put things. Although some stuff got shoved into closets, all of which I promised myself I’d deal with later.  Our photos and art are on the walls, our carpets are on the ground, we’re eating off our own plates with our own silverware, M has his books, I have all my kitchen gear and cookbooks, and Nate has his record players. Everyone is happy.

Life here has been relatively easy for us to adjust to. Most of the social culture is outdoors and it’s awesome. Plus you can easily buy just about everything you need, including pork products and alcohol. And things here are so darn inexpensive. It’s glorious. It’s just so nice to be someplace where it’s comfortable to be outside. I can’t stress that enough. Granted, we haven’t been here during the worst of the summer heat, but there’s no way it will ever be as bad as Oman. Nate and I were outside this morning at 11 am, hauling around bags of dirt and shoveling the soil, attempting to get a garden going. We never could have done that during an Omani summer without suffering from heat exhaustion.

One of many overwhelming aisles at Embassy Liquor. Yes the store is called Embassy Liquor. It’s almost like they knew who their best customers would be…

Speaking of Oman, we took some of the lessons we learned there and applied them to our life here. One of those lessons was to get our adventure car as soon as possible. We purchased a bakkie, or pick-up truck, and it is a big powerful vehicle. It’s the perfect 4×4 to explore Namibia with, and we’ve added a big metal top, or canopy, as they call it here, to the back. There’s so much storage space it’s amazing! We still need to get a roof rack and a steel rear bumper, but we are ready to go!

The workweek here took some serious getting used to. Monday through Thursday we work from 7:30ish to 5:15ish with a one-hour lunch break, and then on Fridays we work from 7:30ish to 12:30ish. We’re always running around like chickens with our heads chopped off trying to get to work on time (which never happens), and then in the evenings we scramble to get dinner on the table before M goes to take his bath around 7:45.  It makes me appreciate the Muscat workweek and commute, which had us leaving the house around 7:30 am and getting home by 4:45 pm each day. Thank heavens for our housekeeper; without her we’d be spending all our time doing laundry, tidying up or cleaning the kitchen.

Cloudy sky

One of my favorite things to do on Saturday mornings is to go to the farmer’s market. There are all kinds of vendors, and when you want to buy something, the vendor sets your stuff aside and gives you a receipt. Once you’re done visiting all the stalls, you take all your receipts to the payment area, pay your bill (you can even pay with a card!), and they mark all your receipts as “paid.” Then you go hand your paid receipts to the vendors and you collect your stuff. It’s ingenious. It’s nice to be able to stroll around without lugging heavy bags everywhere. Although it’s also kind of bad because you don’t realize exactly how much you purchased until you have to collect it all and you leave with far more than you actually needed.

Another cloudy sky, this time in the morning

We’re glad we’ll be here for three years. We are settling in, and M is happy at his “tall house in Africa.” Our time in the U.S. over the summer (about 7 weeks) was really hard for him and he kept asking to “go home.” We tried to explain to him that Muscat wasn’t our home anymore, that we were going to have a bunch of different homes over the summer, and that we’d finally arrive at our new home in Namibia, but what 3-year old really understands that? When we finally pulled up the driveway to our house in Windhoek, he said “Are we at my house in Africa?” We were very relieved to finally tell him we were home.

It’s like we can all finally exhale after a summer of holding our breath, now that we’re here. And that’s a nice feeling.

The polarities of Foreign Service life

I wrote this post back in November of 2018 but I could never bring myself to publish it because it seemed like I would be jinxing myself. I almost published it when we were leaving Oman, but I just couldn’t. I’m glad I didn’t because then I’d think I had jinxed us. Turns out shit happens whether you tempt fate or not.

Without editing or further ado…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” While this quote was used by Charles Dickens to describe 1700’s London and Paris, it also applies to life in the Foreign Service. We only have about 8 months left here in Oman, and the past year has been absolutely amazing. That’s in stark contrast to our Dhaka tour, which ended up being a complete shit-show.

This got me thinking about life in the Foreign Service and all of the ups and downs. Sometimes it’s fun and fancy, full of incredible adventures, while other times it’s literally the stuff of nightmares. (Keep in mind, we’ve only been doing this since 2015, and there are a lot of more experienced voices out there than mine.) The same could be said for life anywhere, but sometimes you have to accept more risk to get more reward. Some of the best and worst times of my life have happened since joining the FS, most of them directly caused by our choice to live this lifestyle, which gives us so much, but also takes away a lot.

You never really know what you’re going to get. That’s a risk that we, as a family, are willing to take. For now, anyways.

Over the past year, we’ve done so many amazing, incredible things, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Watching M grow into a little boy who loves the water and hiking, strolls around the Muttrah souk like he owns the place, loves his nanny and his teachers, begs to FaceTime with his grandparents, and runs to the door shrieking “Let’s go on an adventure!” is absolutely priceless. We are so very lucky to have the opportunity to live in Oman, and we appreciate the good times like they might never happen again. (Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc. that nothing catastrophic happens here over the eight months)

Then look at our experience in Dhaka: it was fine, great in fact, until it turned into a descent into literal  hell. It started with an Italian NGO worker getting shot to death outside of the grocery store that we shopped at every week and then a few months later one of the local staff at the embassy was hacked to death with a machete in his apartment. A few months after that was the terrorist attack at Holey Bakery, which resulted in the quick departure of over half of the embassy community.

Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse writing about how great Oman has been, because things could turn on a dime. But even then, we still would have had the past 14 months of pure awesomeness. Things were never awesome in Dhaka. Our best times were spent hanging out with our friends in each other’s houses, and on vacation in other countries. We never got to experience the real Dhaka or Bangladesh.

I suppose that all of this is to say that I’m grateful for life’s upswing that we’ve had here. We’ve been lucky, and we know it. Maybe Oman was our cosmic payback for enduring Dhaka, but we are very cognizant of how good we’ve had it over the past year. Bracing for our next tour, we go into it hoping for the best. But in the back of my mind, there are thoughts about how it could go wrong and what contingency plans we’ll need. Nate will continue to always sit facing the exit in any restaurant we go to, and I’ll always be jumpy about people walking behind me.

Our family motto has been and will continue to be “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.” There’s no time like the present.

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.