Monday, February 25, 2013

Adjusting to Djibouti

Currently it’s 84 degrees here, while back home in the states there seems to be snow everywhere!  I’m NOT missing the snow, AT ALL!  Everyday, we don’t have to worry about coats, hats, scarves, gloves, or boots.  We just slip on our sandals, and go out the door.  However, we are all currently covered in mosquito bites.  I currently have at least 20 bites, if not more.  And every night, we dress as if we are back home in the winter cold with long sleeves, long pants, and socks.  We try to be covered as much as possible, because that is the best way to prevent mosquito bites in the night.  We sleep under our mosquito net, and hope that during the night it doesn’t get caught up in our blankets and creates an opening that invites the mosquitos to come in for a meal.  The only person who doesn’t have to worry (and also has the least mosquito bites) is the baby, as her net drapes nicely over the sides of her pack-n-play and never gets caught in her blanket.  Thankfully, all of us don’t suffer too much during the night thanks to our trusty air conditioning.

Currently, we are still living without anything that we didn’t bring with us.  Everything that is in our house, isn’t ours.  Some of the things we get to keep our entire two years here, and some things we have to return that is only on loan until our own items arrive.  We found out yesterday, that it will still be at least seven weeks before our car arrives.  And today we found out that NONE of our household items have even left storage in Wyoming.  They won't be moving for another 21 days, then the fast shipment will take at least a month and the slow shipment another four months.  So.. hopefully they will come before we go home for our summer visit.  I am longing for my own mattress again!  My Keurig, and maybe more selection in my wardrobe.

Over the weekend, my husband asked me if I was missing the United States.  And since we are still without a car, and are pretty much stuck at home most of the time at the moment, there is a little homesickness sinking in.  But, we know there are things out there to see.  It’s just a matter of finding the resources to go see them.  We are advised to not take the “bus” here, or taxi’s.  The “bus” here, are battered run down mini-vans that never close their sliding door.. and most of the time, people are hanging out the door because the van is so packed.  They are also usually decorated in frilly items.  So basically, our options are hitching a ride when another family will be going somewhere.

Things we have to get used to… there are no car seat laws here.  The only enforceable traffic violation is “don’t turn right on a red light.”  Drivers pass other drivers as they please, and usually not safely.  People walk in front of cars without really looking if a car is coming or not.  Every road has pot holes, feel free to swerve as you like to avoid them.. even if there is another car coming towards you.

Construction workers throwing cement buckets with such precise rhythm.
Outside our barbed wired walls, there is new construction going up.  Every morning at 6am, a lot of very loud men start working on the new house that is going up.  (Yes, we just left a community with a lot of new houses going up.)  But, there aren’t any big rigs that are helping them build this new structure.  Just a lot of concrete materials, and natural elements, and a lot of hard workers.  As I type this, there are three levels of men, tossing buckets full of wet concrete up and down in a precise rhythm.  The guy on the ground fills up the bucket, tosses it to the middle guy, and immediately continues to toss it up to the third guy up on what will be the roof, where he throws the concrete into a wheel barrow.  And just as he throws the empty bucket back down to the second guy, the second guy is throwing up another full bucket to the third guy, and the same with the second guy throwing the empty bucket back down to the guy on the ground.  There is no body slouching around taking a break.  Nobody taking their sweet time.  No mechanical tools.  Its as if electricity doesn’t exist at all.  Just hammers and concrete, and a lot of yelling.  Synchronized to perfection.  You would never see anything like it in America.

Our water supply tank
Another thing that we need to get used to is our water supply.  This tank that is outside, is all we have available.  A huge truck, decorated in frills, comes to refill it once a week.  The water has no fluoride, and isn’t even drinkable.  We have a water distiller that purifies the water, but it doesn’t take the salty taste away.  We only use that for cooking.  And then we’ve invested in a water cooler system, and buy the huge water bottles from the local store as our drinking water.  And the health unit has given me drops of fluoride to put in the drinks for the girls.  Our kitchen doesn't have drawers.  There is no place to put the utensils.  No dishwasher, no garbage disposal.

The water supply truck
The electricity here comes from somewhere in another country, and takes two days to get here.  And with that amount of distance to travel, there is bound to be some hiccups.  So, the power goes out often.  But luckily, we have a very LOUD generator right outside that keeps the air conditioning going.

Concrete everywhere, and barbed wire fences.
Inside and outside, there is concrete everywhere.  Inside, tile floors.  Everywhere has a hard surface.  But this keeps the house cooler.  Not a lot of fun for a toddling toddler.  So, we are extra careful when she wants to explore the stairs.  Luckily, they’ve made us some homemade picket fences as gates on the stairs.  But outside, there is no grass.  Only stone and dirt.  Outside you see people strolling along an empty dirt lot, and then decide to pull their pants down and squat with no barrier to block what they are doing.

At the grocery store (and in the entire city), they only accept VISA.  Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except our debit card is a Master Card.  So, we need to make sure we get enough cash from the cashier at the embassy, which is the only place I can write a check.  At the grocery store, there isn’t an entire row of cereal options.  Any Kellogs products that they do have (which isn’t a lot), are almost over $5 each, for a very small box.  When you go shopping one week and buy something, it might not be there the next couple weeks when you go back.  Fruits are close to $10/kg.  Lettuce is about $8, and you are lucky if it’s not wilted.  Cheddar cheese isn’t common here, and is also very expensive.  Many, many things you take for granted in the US.. we don’t have here.  Luckily, there is a Coca Cola bottling company here, so Coke products aren’t too expensive.

School is Saturday – Wednesday.  My husband’s work week is Sunday – Thursday.  We get one day off a week together as a family.  Which means, I only get one day a week to possibly sleep in.  Friday is their holy day here, as Sunday is church day at home.  The children go to “Monday School” instead of “Sunday School” with other American children.

The only movie theater, is the one on base.. which we can go to for free.  However, there aren’t a lot of kid-friendly movies there.. but every once in a while there is.  The bowling alley is under renovation, and currently doesn’t have an actual operating bowling alley.  Apparently before they closed it though, you had to walk down to the end and prop up your own pins.. and something about carpet getting in the way.  I’m not sure.  There is no mall.  No fast food.. well, there is a Big Boy, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try it.  But honestly, we aren’t really missing those things at all.

Someone posted a quote on facebook the other day that talked about being yourself.  However, the obstacles that our family has dealt with since we arrived, we really can’t be “ourselves”.  As diplomats, you must behave properly.  “Blend in, don’t bring attention to yourselves.”  If you have met my family, you know that with two cute red-headed children it is impossible to “blend in.”  Even when we aren’t the minority in a foreign country.  But especially when we are possibly the ONLY red heads in the entire country, we stand out like sore thumbs.

Lilly, our oldest child, was out of school for seven weeks during the moving process.  And now, she already has another week and a half vacation (local elections are taking place, which might bring protests).

We are adjusting to the things that are different.  We are happy to finally be in our own home, with a lot of space, with our own kitchen.  We have two different satellites for a variety of television watching, with even some American shows.  And internet is finally working at home, so we are able to talk to people at home more often.

Out of everything there is to “adjust” to in our new home, I honestly think I’m missing the American grocery stores the most.  But I think that will be the case, no matter where we go outside the US.  So.. I can live with it.  We have our family together, and that is what is most important.  And we are making some new friends, that have been very helpful in getting us settled.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Living in a hotel

Today we had at least six housekeepers come to our room while it was being cleaned.  And I’m convinced they were all coming to see the "American’s room with all the stuff".  They were all very friendly.  And, it was at 4:30pm.  So maybe they were all finished with their rooms and were coming to check and see if our cleaning lady needed help finishing her rooms..but I’m almost certain it was because we are the exhibit at the zoo for them to all come and see.  Come see what all the screaming that comes from our room is about.  But really, it’s just a cranky baby that’s teething.  Who is hungry, and tired.

You see, when there are four people living in a hotel room for a long time period... not a suite, no kitchenette, no microwave.. and the fridge is a mini bar, filled with all the things they want you to buy and there is no room for your personal items.  It’s a little difficult.  The only sink to wash the sippy cups in, is in the bathroom.  But if somebody just stunk up the bathroom, you really don’t feel like the cups are really getting cleaned.  

Things that are hard about living in a hotel room.. is if the baby isn't settling down, nobody gets to settle down.  No matter how early you have to get up the next morning.  And if the baby wakes up early and doesn't go back to sleep.. then nobody is going back to sleep.  When we were in Germany, we had a one bedroom suite with a kitchenette.  So, if the baby was fussy.. at least we could close a door to minimize disturbance to others... including people down the hall.  But not here.  Everyone keeps asking how we are enjoying our five-star hotel experience.. but honestly.. I'm not on vacation.  This is my temporary home.  And I'd rather have less luxury and be in our new house.  Where I have a kitchen, and I don't have to pay $50 every meal to feed two people.  Where I don't have to worry about disturbing other people who are here on vacation and don't really want to listen to a crying teething baby.  Maybe, if we didn't have children.. this experience would be very different.  But we do have children.  Sure, the view at the free breakfast is fantastic.  As well as the amazing pool.  But, there is no privacy in the hotel.  Everyone can hear us in the hall, trying to talk over the fussy baby.  There is no privacy driving around, as we have embassy drivers who drive us everywhere.  I can't keep food in the fridge, because there is no room.  So, when the kids are hungry.. the only restaurant that is the cheapest, is Italian.  More pasta.  But.. if we don't eat all the food, we can't even take it back to the room with us.  It's a never-ending cycle of so many things right now.

Watching Iron Man 2 with Arabic Subtitles
Amazing pool with an amazing view
But I'm trying not to have selfish feelings like this.  Every time I consider explaining to people who are asking me how our stay is going.. I reconsider.  How can I complain about such trivial things as four people living in a air conditioned room with comfortable beds, electricity, running water, internet, computers, TV (mostly in English with Arabic sub-titles) and a mini-fridge... when so many people outside these walls have none of these.  Every day, we drive by shacks.. with little or no walls.  Once in a while, when you drive at night.. you can see about 20 people gathered around a shack.. all watching the same television.  And during the day, the television isn't there.  Then there are other shacks that are actually little stores, and allow the use of a telephone for a fee.  This is their version of a convenience store.  

This morning, we drove to what will be Lilly's school.. and the streets are flooded with umbrella stands.. and people eating breakfast on little stools.  I'm told they are employees having breakfast that work at the electrical company.  So, it was more like their break room, out on the sidewalk of the street.  And the next thing I know, there is a guy walking with his man-skirt (I forget what they are called) partially open, and he walked right next to Lilly's car window.  I'm not sure if she saw his "man parts".. but I sure did.  And it's not the first one I've seen driving around Djibouti.  People who don't have running water, bathe in the ocean... naked.  People come to your car door and knock, and extend their hand out to you wanting some money.  Poverty is all around.

And then we get to Lilly's school.  And all of a sudden I see women in their head dress, driving expensive large SUV's.  (Everyone here that has a car.. usually has an SUV, because not all the roads are paved.. and those that are paved, have many pot-holes.. and you need 4WD in many places).  The people who go to this school have to have money.  It's a private school, and it's VERY expensive (I had to fork over the money here today.. I haven't held so many bills in my LIFE.. but at least we will get reimbursed for it, so it wasn't too hard to hand it over.)  But seeing these women driving such extravagant vehicles, isn't very common.. and actually shocked me a little.  So, not everyone here is struggling.  There are a lot of very nice houses.  There is even some grass that grows in unoccupied places that doesn't make any sense on how it is so lush.. amongst all the trash that gathers there.  

But again, I feel very guilty for complaining about living in our hotel room.  But, when our house is ready.. we are ready to get settled.  However, we still don't know how long that will be.  But until then, we will enjoy the pool and the view that goes with it.  And enjoy the comfortable beds, and the internet.  Because when we do move into our house, I don't know how long it will be before we get internet in our house.. and I'm quite sure I'm not going to like the mattresses that they've given us.  But, then I will think about the children living outside the walls of our house, and again.. be thankful that we've been blessed.. and are not living out there in the dust and the heat and the poverty.

Djibouti - 9:30pm - 72 degrees... tomorrow, high of 85