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 best places to spend your money in Muscat

It’s hard to not spend money in Oman. Things here aren’t cheap, but there are definitely some places where your money is better-spent than others. So, without further ado, here are the top places where we will happily part with our hard-earned riyals.

Things to Ingest

Best pizza: Tomato
Expensive, but worth it. Located at the Intercontinental Hotel

Yes, that is real pork on the pizza from Tomato

Best burgers: Park Burger
15% discount for US embassy employees

Best Omani Food: Bait Al Luban

The alleyway to Bait Al Luban

Omani dates and coffee

Best Indian food delivery: Begum’s
phone number for the branch that delivers is +968-9307-4000

Best vegetarian Indian restaurant: Saravana Bhavan
Inexpensive and amazing. the Ruwi branch is the best

Best Japanese food: Tokyo Taro
Located at the Al Falaj Hotel

Best seafood: Turkish House
The grilled shrimp, fried calamari, mixed appetizer and freshly baked bread are fantastic

Enormous grilled shrimp at The Turkish House

Best breakfast sandwich: The Zed at Al Hawas
The spicy version is the best. Good greasy shawarma too

The halal breakfast sandwich that dreams are made of

Best craft cocktails: The Chedi
Bring bug spray if you plan to sit outside

Best cocktails with a view: The Edge
Pool bar at the Crowne Plaza Qurum

Things to Take Home

Bespoke tailor: Western Tailor
Mukesh +968-9637-4537: Inexpensive, high-quality tailoring. You must provide your own fabric. One of the few tailors that is not shy about taking female measurements.

Pork: Duty free in the international arrivals baggage claim
It sounds strange, but it’s true! The pork you can buy elsewhere is extraordinarily overpriced, not to mention freezer burnt.

Frame shop: Ibn Al Farsi Trading Co.
Very inexpensive. Make sure to specify exactly what kind of glass you want and mat width.

Rug shop: Kashmir International
Shah +968-9589-3899: Beautiful rugs and weavings from Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Iran. Shah is extremely knowledgeable and friendly and will happily show you carpets for hours. Lots of beautiful scarves, blankets and other textiles and trinkets as well.

It’s hard to not buy one of everything

Carpets too beautiful to step on

Omani trinkets: Bait Al Zubair gift shop
Lots of good books on Oman, Omani handicrafts, prints, etc.

Things to Do

Best Daymaniyat Island snorkeling company: Daymaniat Shells

Yes, the water really was that color

Best scuba diving operator: EuroDivers

My kind of view!

Best adventure tourism operator: Twenty3Extreme

There you have it! I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting, so I’ll update this list if anything comes to mind.

Shopping in Dhaka: DIT-2

One of my favorite places to shop in Dhaka is DIT-2.  It’s a two-story strip mall that doesn’t really look like anything special, and the parking lot is a mess when it rains.  But it’s pretty great.

DIT-2 parking lot/lake

DIT-2 parking lot/lake

You can buy all kinds of interesting antiques, jewelry and pearls, and sports equipment, there’s a good grocery store, and if all that shopping makes you hungry (or you dragged your husband along and he’d rather eat than shop), you can even get a hamburger and fries or donuts.

I’m not an antiques person but they have some really interesting stuff: lots of neat wooden furniture, wooden sari stamps, random stuff from early 1900’s British ships, figurines, etc.  If you go earlier in the day (before noon, basically) some of the shop owners are more willing to bargain and they’ll give you a discount for being their first customer.

There are tons of pearl and jewelry stores, were you can buy already made necklaces, or you can tell them what you want and they’ll make it for you.  The pearls here are beautiful and crazy-cheap.  The main problem with pearl shopping in DIT-2 is that there are so many pearl shops, it’s hard to know which ones are the best.  So I guess that means I need to just check each one out!

I really like the grocery store on the first floor, Dhali.  They have an incredible range of products; last time I was there I saw Newman’s Own salsa, queso and bean dip!  And Tostitos!  There’s a guy that sells cheese outside the Dhali entrance and his paneer is amazing.  We get the semi-salty, and it’s really good in salads with tomatoes and cucumbers, served with bread and butter, or on sandwiches (both hot or cold since it melts really nicely).

There’s a burger stand, Naga Burger, that sells fast-food style burgers and fries with spicy sauces. I haven’t eaten there yet, but Nate says it’s really good.  If you’re not looking for the burger stand, you won’t see it because it’s pretty nondescript.  They use high quality beef and cook the burgers to order, so it takes some time.  But that means you can walk across the parking lot to Glazed, the donut place, while you wait!  The donuts are 135 taka (about $1.75), and I was surprised by how good they were.

It’s an easy place to spend several hours, and if you come to visit, we’ll definitely stop by!

Trip to Beximco

Over the weekend we went on a CLO-organized trip to Beximco industrial park, one of Bangladesh’s biggest private sector manufacturing companies.

Sounds riveting, huh? (That was Nate’s general impression, too.)

Basically, Beximco makes clothes for several American and European clothing lines, including American Eagle, Topshop, Zara and H&M.

Beximco also houses Shinepukur Ceramics, which makes fine china and porcelain, and this was the main reason for our visit. Wedgewood, Royal Doulton, and other fancy brands?  All made in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

So, the drive to Beximco.  It was terrible.  Thank god we had an air conditioned van to sit in while we weren’t going anywhere.  Prime Minister Moti was flying into Dhaka that day so they closed off a bunch of roads, which meant that in an hour, at least, we moved maybe a quarter of a mile. It was supposed to take 2 hours, and instead it took 3.  Luckily we got there eventually.

At least there were some interesting sights along the way.

"Scaffolding", or bamboo rods tied together with rope by barefoot unsecured men at least 10 stories off the ground

“Scaffolding”, or bamboo rods tied together with rope by barefoot unsecured men at least 10 stories off the ground

Cows!

Cows!

There are almost always men riding on top of trucks and buses.  Or sometimes there are goats.

There are almost always men riding on top of trucks and buses. Or sometimes goats.

The tour of Beximco was actually pretty interesting, and the CEO was more entertaining that you’d usually expect.  The Ambassador came to Beximco with us, and she was scheduled to have dinner with Moti later that night.  Completely seriously, the CEO offered her his helicopter for the return trip.  No biggie.

Due to our delayed arrival, we didn’t get a tour of the clothing factory, but we got to see the fashion design studio and the ceramics factory.  I only lasted through about 5 minutes of the ceramics factory tour because it was so hot.  The minute I stepped outside of the factory, a rush of cool air hit me…. and that “cool air” was at least 90 degrees.

The Beximco grounds are really nice, much more scenic than you'd expect from an industrial park.

The Beximco grounds are really nice, much more scenic than you’d expect from an industrial park.

There’s also a little zoo, with deer, black and white swans, parrots, and peacocks, near the area where we had lunch.

The trip to Beximco was capped off with a visit to the ceramics showroom, where loads of brands and patterns were on display, filled with employees eager to take your order.  Porcelain and bone china place settings and serving ware are available at stupidly low prices, and then they knock off another 20%.

Quick!  Buy some china!

Quick! Buy some china!

After two hours in the ceramics showroom (we did some serious damage, which I’ll talk more about in a few weeks when we get our order), we finally headed home.  Beximco gave us a police escort back to avoid further problems with the traffic, and the ride only took about an hour.  While traveling with a police escort is certainly not a regular occurrence, it sure was nice! At one point we even passed an ambulance with its lights on, which isn’t a big deal because apparently they are more frequently used as expensive taxis than as vehicles transporting people seeking urgent medical care.  They also double as hearses.

If you ever had the opportunity to visit Beximco, I’d highly recommend it.  Especially if you’re in the market for some bone china.