Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 22, 2012 - ♥ Kyle

I haven't blogged much this week, with a lot going on in my family.  My sister's newborn baby, Kyle, is critically ill.  He was born with extremely serious defects in his heart, that went undetected until he was about one week old.  

At my sister's request, I've set up a blog to keep family and friends updated on Kyle's condition so that Christine and Kevin don't have to attend to phone calls and email quite so much.  Kyle is scheduled for a 7-hour open heart surgery on Monday morning.  If you are interested in learning more about what's happening please visit this blog to see updates - you can subscribe to receive them by email as well.

All thoughts, prayers, and other good energy you can send to my sister's family right now would be greatly appreciated.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 18, 2012 - Morning Chat

"Kids say the darndest things..." right?!  We all know that saying is true.  And if I wrote a blog every time my eldest said something particularly "darndest", well then blogging would be a full time job.  But this morning's conversation still has me laughing, so I think I'll share.  It went a little something like this:

Grace:  {stretching}  Mama, I'm stretching!

Me:  That's great!  Eating well, sleeping and stretching are all the things that help you grow big and strong!

Grace: {thinking really hard}...Mama,  did you not stretch so much?  Or eat so well?

Me: {frowns}

Grace:  Because you're not so high (said if she was breaking the news to me gently).

Me:  Well, I tried but some people are just not meant to be as tall as other people*.

Grace:  I want to be REALLY big and strong!  Like Far! there a better way to start one's day than being called out by your pre-schooler for being too short?!


*Yes, that was my attempt at explaining genetics.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 13, 2012 - Back in the Saddle

Yesterday I started working at the International School of Tanganyika (IST) secondary school (Grades 6-12) here in Dar.  It is a 2 minute drive from our house and is next to Grace and Noah's school.  I am a substitute teacher!  

I first acted as "reader" and "scribe" for students with learning disabilities who get these accommodations when they have exams.  Today I was a "reader" again and also showed a movie to a class whose teacher abruptly went home sick.  

The kids have been very polite and respectful to me so far.  My favorite moment was today when I was taking attendance.  I asked each student to tell me his/her name.  One boy, whose name I had laready overheard, gave me the name of a different boy on my list.  The boy next to him then gave me "his" name and giggled.  A third boy did the same.  

It was obviously a game that they were giving me the wrong names.  

When it got to the fourth boy, he sort of froze - it was like he couldn't think quickly enough to give me a different name but someone else had already used HIS name.  So I told him..."It's OK...take your time...just make sure to give me the name of someone who is actually here so I don't make him absent."

Then the whole class started laughing because they didn't expect me to "get" their prank.

Awwww...even in the small capacity of substitute teacher, it was nice to be back!  

Looking forward to more work at IST it is a flexible schedule for me with dropping off and picking up the kids at school, people have been very friendly, and it is a really nice school environment.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11, 2012 - New Life

Grace and Noah have a new cousin!

Kyle Michael Phelps was born on September 10th.  
Isn't he handsome?

Particularly today, when the world is remembering such sadness, I think it is perfect and wonderful to celebrate new life and the bright future ahead of this little guy.  

Noah looked at his picture and exclaimed, "Baby!" 

Grace said, "But I can't say the word Kyle [as she pronounced it perfectly]. Where is Baby Zoe?"  I trust that big sister Zoe (now 12 months + 10 days old) and Baby Kyle will be like two peas in a pod.  

We all can't wait to meet him - congratulations to Christine, Kevin and Zoe, and welcome to the world, Kyle!


Monday, September 10, 2012

September 10, 2012 - Starbucks

While doing my usual grocery shopping this morning (after a 3rd failed attempt to get a police report for my stolen phone), I was buying a box of tea when something surprising caught my eye.

That's right.  Not just Starbucks coffee.  That would be pretty surprising in and of itself.  But Starbucks coffee K-CUPS for the Keurig (our coffee machine!).  In Dar.  It cost the equivalent of $17 for one box, or 10 cups of coffee.  That's $1.70 a cup, which is a lot more expensive than the $.25/K-Cup we pay at home but is still cheaper than buying it in an actual Starbucks, right?  Because even though I don't even drink coffee, I bought a box!  I just couldn't help myself!  It was definitely a case of: I bought it because I could!  And I am sure they won't last long in the store anyway (there were definitely not there on Friday and there were only 4 left today) so I didn't want to go home and think about it before deciding to buy.    

Our Keurig has not been used too much since Farmor and Hans left, so now I need to find someone who drinks coffee and invite them over for a cup!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

September 8, 2012 - Jailhouse Rock

This past week has not been the best for me.  There were quite a few disappointments and inconveniences.  Nothing so serious - just a lot of small stuff that has left me exhausted and, more than once this week, feeling trapped.   In loose order of how they happened...

  • First I had 2 different infections and a pinched nerve in my neck.  That was last weekend.
  • Then my phone got stolen at the Goat Races, and by MY phone I mean: Kristoffer's official work phone (World Bank Property) that I use since he uses a non-work-issued Blackberry.  The World Bank requires a police report for stolen property, which lead to my first (and hopefully last) adventures at a Tanzania police station.  More on that below.  
  • When we were running out of luku (electricity) we went to input the code for the new luku I had purchased the week before (I thought Rose had already entered it, but I was wrong) and the code had expired.  So I had to buy more luku and find a way to get back the other 6-weeks-worth-of-luku that we lost. This meant I had to go to the luku headquarters (Tanesco...the government owned electric company) and wait in various lines with hundreds of other people before figuring out how to apply for the credit to be re-issued.  Thank God I brought Rose with me to help translate and keep me calm...and now we have to go back in another week to see if our appeal was approved.
  • I was about to start my online coursework for Scuba Diving Certification here (a 3-day practical course in the ocean is next week) when I discovered that because I have a pacemaker, I can't participate without getting me and my pacemaker cleared by my cardiologist.  Who is in Nairobi.  Which brings me to...
  • The World Bank is supposed to provide me with one non-emergency medical evacuation to Nairobi every year to have my pacemaker checked by my cardiologist there (because he is the closest one who can do it anyway!).  That is what we were told when Kristoffer was hired.  And I am due for a check in November so we inquired with the World Bank Medical Officer (who is also in Nairobi, actually) about the process.  She came back to us with a new response that the World Bank will only cover 80% of my airfare and nothing else for the trip to Nairobi.  But it can't be done in Dar so we will end up having to pay out of pocket for all the rest.  Awesome.
  • And now Noah is sick with a throat infection that kept him, me and Kristoffer awake for almost all of the night. For the third weekend in a row we spent the morning in the clinic (Grace had a similar infection 2 weeks ago, and last weekend was my turn).   
So.  I am exhausted and disappointed and homesick (and it doesn't help that my Dad has been sick and that my sister is having a baby on Monday!).  But at least there were some humorous moments in visiting the Police Station.

I also brought Rose with me on this adventure, because I wasn't sure how well the police speak English and I like the comfort of not being alone when I am so far out of my element.  Indeed, I was.  To give you a picture upon entering the police station:

There was a big counter behind which were 6-10 (at any given time) police officers of different ranks who were talking, yelling, shuffling piles upon piles of papers and ledger books.  Behind them were 2 jail cells: one for men and one for women.  From what I could hear and the little I could see, both cells were full of people and a lot of them were on their mobile phones.  It smelled like urine and the whole place was dirty. 

It took a long time before anyone acknowledged me, which was a little surprising since I could not have been more obvious.  But I did get a police officer to take my statement.  At one point he asked, "Why?" my cell phone was stolen, as if I had arranged it on purpose.  I think he was not of the Detective variety.  It took another long time for him to get all the details and write them down in the appropriate way ("the alleged crime took place at the alleged scene...") with a lot of help from Rose.  I think the statement ended up reading something about me taking my goats for a walk in a stroller when someone took the phone.  I of course agreed to everything he wrote because I don't really care - I just need something signed for the World Bank!  I also had to suppress a belly laugh when, after I explained that we had been with about two thousand strangers when the phone was stolen, he asked me with ALL seriousness, "Do you have a suspect?"  

I ended up not being able to get a copy of the police report that day and had to go back again yesterday.  After going through more rooms of papers and ledgers and people directing me different places, I finally found an officer who understood that I did not actually care about an investigation...I just need a piece of paper for the World Bank!  So we'll see if it is ready when I go back on Monday to collect my copy of the report.

And at least there were a couple of GOOD moments thrown in the mix of this week: we were finally accepted into the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club (that's a blog for another day), I had a nice morning visit with a new friend one day when the kids were at school, and there was a Back-to-School BBQ last night at the school which was very nice.

Here's hoping my stress level comes down a little bit next week.  There are no travel plans in the budget until December, so I have to hold on tight until then!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

September 6, 2012 - Six Months in Dar (part 3)

Part 3 of the series: NBO vs DAR

It is really hard not to compare Nairobi and Dar, given that they are both big East African cities.  I think overall we liked living in Nairobi and I can’t say we were unhappy there…but we were also quite ready to leave.  So far we are happy with our move to Dar…it is family friendly and as I’ve written about, we were able to make a pretty smooth transition. 

But in my head I am comparing these two places all the time, although I do try not be too hard on either of them.  I’ll share a little bit of what I think here…

Overall Development and Speed/Efficiancy: NBO.  NBO is much more “like” a modern western city (although definitely is not actually a modern western city), but DAR is following close behind.  We haven’t been to the movies here because there isn’t a movie theater very close to where we live.  There are not many big shopping malls here, as there were in NBO.  Even though I originally found NBO to be quite slow, it is a wee bit faster than DAR when it comes to conducting business (and, I imagine Kristoffer could tell you, government affairs as well). But DAR is moving quickly and is catching up to NBO in terms of mobile phone technology, building/construction, and service deliveries.

Banking:  NBO.  Although in both cities banking IS SO SLOW AND ANNOYING AND FEELS LIKE THE 1930s WHEN YOU HAVE TO WRITE EVERYTHING IN A DAMN LEDGER.  Oh sorry… but in NBO we did at least have a local bank account whereas we have now altogether given up on banking in DAR.  We just take cash out of the ATMs here daily.  It sucks.

Prices in General: DRAW.  Both countries are really expensive, but some things are more expensive here (for example, housing) and other things are more expensive there (for example, medical care).

Housing: DRAW.  DAR is more expensive than NBO, but there are a lot more options in NBO.  We are quite fortunate and ended up with great houses in both places.

Freedom: DAR.  Because driving is so much less insane in Dar I am comfortable driving on my own and therefore have a lot more freedom than I ever had in Nairobi.  Of course it was my own fault for being scared of driving there…I am sure I could have gotten used to it, but it would have made our life there a lot more stressful.  Here I am confident and feel secure driving. 

Transportation: DAR.  Not only is driving less crazy, but it is easier and safer for Kristoffer to bike here!  And traffic can be bad, but does not compare to NBO’s traffic.  That place is THE WORST!

Security:  slight advantage DAR.  DAR does not have the constant terrorist threat (from Al Shabaab in Somalia) looming over it and sort of everyday crime is believed to be less (and less violent) here than NBO.  But it is also getting worse and people often say, “It’s getting to be like Nairobi.”  But we do feel a bit safer here than we did in NBO, although after Kristoffer’s incident last year we are generally more paranoid.

Health Concerns: slight advantage NBO.  We didn’t worry about malaria in NBO so that is the slight advantage.  But in terms of stomach bugs and other random African illnesses, we are in the same boat here I think.

Medical Care: NBO.  Hands down.  I miss three things very much from Nairobi and our doctors are on that list (also, my friends and the beautiful flowers!).  Aga Khan University Hospital in NBO was a good hospital and I had a great doctor there for having babies.  I had the best doctor and leading cardiologist in East Africa as my general physician and cardiologist at Nairobi Hospital.  Grace and Noah were patients of the leading pediatrician, who I miss on a weekly basis.  DAR has a couple of good clinics, but they treat so many travelers that they are not really developing relationships with their patients and always make you feel a bit rushed/foreign.  If any of us were to get really sick we would be med-evac’ed to Nairobi to see the doctors I have mentioned above. 

School: DAR.  While I loved the little school Grace went to in Nairobi, had a very hard time saying goodbye to it, and would happily recommend it to anyone there, it can’t compare with the language and cultural opportunity our kids have by going to the Nordic School. 

Finding Stuff:  slight advantage NBO.  Nairobi had more options, but we still have a lot of choice here and there isn’t anything “big” that we can’t find.  For a price :)

Night Life: slight advantage NBO.  Ok, we aren’t really “night life” people in the first place.  NBO had a lot more restaurants and clubs and bars and movie theaters, but there are still a lot of good ones here and maybe they are more our speed because we aren’t going to bars and clubs too often anyway!

Stuff for Kids & Visitors: slight advantage NBO.  There are a few more activities with little ones in NBO (like Grace used to do Monkeynastix), and more cool places to visit with guests like the Giraffe Center and the Elephant Orphanage.  But in Dar we have the beach right here!

Poverty: slight disadvantage DAR.  In NBO, poverty was a lot more “in your face” because it was juxtaposed so closely with extreme wealth.  We saw poverty everyday where we lived. Here, because we live on this isolated little peninsula of mostly expats and upper middle class Tanzanians, we don’t see it very much in our daily lives but we do know that it is even worse than in Kenya.

Infrastructure:  DRAW.  The roads in DAR (although probably not the rest of the country) are much better than we expected them to be.  And they even make some NBO roads look bad!  Traffic is bad, but not as bad as NBO.  Electricity and water are more scarce and complicated here than in NBO (at least in our experience), but countrywide the problems are the same and I am sure it varies even in our expat community.  We hope that faster internet comes before we move away.  That would be icing on the cake!

Corruption:  DRAW.  I guess both countries are so corrupt that it is hard to tell which one is more or less.  Bummer.

Access to nature: DRAW.  A big benefit to living here is that we don't have to travel to get to the beach...but we are maybe slightly further away from good safari than we were in NBO.  But both countries have incredible places to see wildlife, explore beaches, climb mountains (although in a mountain-off I guess Mt. Kili beats Mt. Kenya...), observe nature.  I really look forward to seeing the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti while we live here.  Maybe I'll even get my hotair balloon ride one of these days.  And I'm still thinking of climbing THE mountain at some stage before we leave Africa.  I've got some time to make that happen, luckily!

Overall Atmosphere: DAR.  Nairobi just feels more stressful (or stressed out?) than Dar does.  The peninsula we live on is so family friendly that we have felt welcomed from the beginning.   The large Scandinavian community is also a big deal here, and of course there are also a lot of Americans in both places we’ve lived.  But DAR feels like a good fit for us.  The beach atmosphere is very calming and at least before the extreme heat starts up again, the weather has been fantastic for the last 3 months!

If you visited us (or live/d) in NBO you should come to DAR now so that you can make your own comparison!


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September 5, 2012 - Six Months in Dar (part 2)

Part 2 of the series: Settling In

There were three very hard parts about getting settled in Dar.

First, we moved here at the peak of the hot season, which felt even hotter considering we came from a Danish and New England winter!  There was nothing we could do about this except suffer a bit and let our personal thermometers adjust.  I would say this was a particular challenge for Noah.

Second, we did not have a working generator at first so the first two weeks were even hotter without electricity (we have power outages every single day here – sometimes on and off all day long) for air conditioning.  We had food going bad without a cold fridge, and we had jet-lagged kids who couldn’t sleep in the extreme heat.

Third, getting sick!  So many new/different bugs/germs/parasites/whatever in the air/water here that it was a hard transition for me and the kids to make (not sure why Kristoffer had it so easy!).  If you'll recall that first month of living in Dar we were regular guests at the local clinic.  I am sure the extreme heat didn't help either!  Luckily, after that month it has been much easier. 

But other than that, I think we've done well.

We tried to go to anything we could get ourselves invited to (to the yacht club with friends, to Happy Hour, to someone’s house for tea, to a meeting of diplomatic spouses…).  As my mom told me once, it is best to cast your net wide in the beginning.  The trick to finding people you want to spend time with is to meet A LOT of people in the first.  So I think we did pretty well this time around – also because in Nairobi we were not good at doing that in the beginning and it took us a long time to have friends there.  This time we decided to push past our family’s “home-body” nature and be as extroverted as possible! 

Another aspect of settling in to Dar has been figuring out where to get stuff.  Since there is not one place that has just about everything (like Nakumatt in Nairobi, mostly), here you have to know where to get the best fruit (and all of it is not in the same place) or the certain groceries or the diesel or the luku, etc.  This required some effort but did not take THAT much time because we live on a small peninsula and do not have so many options.  Now I know which grocery store sells pesto and which one doesn't, where the cheese is best bang for your buck, where the best apples and oranges are, which guy charges too much for mango, etc.

After 6 months we feel pretty comfortable here in Dar - I would even go so far as to say we feel at home here.  Grace has recently told me, "I don't miss my old house anymore!"  I think I am almost there too (but, wow, I did really love our Nairobi house) and I know Kristoffer definitely shares her feelings.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September 4, 2012 - Six Months in Dar (part 1)

We have hit our 6-month anniversary here in Dar (well, I'll remember that Kristoffer arrived one month before us) and, as usual, I am a sucker for anniversaries and milestones and spending lots of time over-thinking these things.  So, naturally, I am reflecting a lot on our move here.  It is no small achievement to survive your first half year in a new country...and I say that with the experience of having done it twice.  

I am dividing my "reflections" into 3 parts to tackle the three major components:  1) the logistics of actually getting here 2) highs and lows and how to's of settling in, and 3) NBO vs DAR (might be a trap, but it's really hard not to compare!).

This particular blog will tackle the first issue:  The Move

By all accounts (mine, Kristoffer's, other people's upon hearing how we did it...), our move went about as smoothly as it could possibly have gone.  There is a decent list of all of the things that helped this transition from NBO to DAR (via 3 1/2 months of world-wide-wandering) go so well.  These are things that I want to remember for any future international move and also that I would recommend to others in the same situation.  We were definitely more expert this time around than in 2007 when we showed up in NBO with 4 suitcases, 2 backpacks, and no idea what we were in for.  

In no particular order, our moving success is attributed to:
  • Knowing someone who had just moved from NBO to DAR shortly before us.  She was able to recommend a moving company (who were thought were pretty awesome and reasonably priced) and offer some insights into moving logistics and daily life.  This was very helpful in managing our expectations.  She was very friendly upon our arrival.
  •  Having a friend of a friend who already lived in DAR for a couple of years to answer my many, many questions over email.
  • Having a mother-in-law who did research for us and found The Nordic School for the kids.  Eventually we would have stumbled upon this gem on the Internet or when we arrived, but she found it first and we pretty much never looked back.  It is a great community for our family.
  • Staying in the region. It gave us some context and frame of reference, although DAR is a very different place than NBO (more on that in part 3).  There is a similar East African vibe here that already felt familiar to us. (obviously, this one would be pretty hard to replicate...unless we try for Uganda next time?)
  • Rose's relocation.  The fact that she wanted to move with us to Dar and even arrived ahead of me and the kids meant that they instantly had another loved one in a strange new place, and that I could manage getting stuff done without having to search for staff.  For me I also felt like I had a friend here right away and we could share in the adventures of being new together.  Gold.  Also will be hard to replicate again.
  • Planning ahead.  Before Kristoffer left the US I had found him a place to stay (didn't turn out to be so great, but at least he had someone to pick him up from the airport and take him there!) and had made appointments for him with 3 different realtors and at the kids' school.  He had a small window before he started working and so was able to just hit the ground running.
  • Short-term separation.  Kristoffer's coming to Dar ahead of us was probably the #1 best decision we made.  He was able to find our house, get our stuff from Nairobi, set up all the big stuff, buy a car, and welcome Rose before we were even on the airplane.  Kids walked in to all of their own stuff and I got out of having to do most of the unpacking (at least until our shipment from the US arrived). No long-term hotel stays for us (thank God). Brilliant.

The biggest challenge to our transition here has been selling our cars in Nairobi (still working on that...please God...throw us a bone!); we have had pretty bad luck with those cars and it has kept one foot sort of stuck in Kenya.  Once they are sold our transition will be 100% complete.  We will really hope September will be the month for that.


Monday, September 3, 2012

September 3, 2012 - Laughing at the Office

Unfortunately I’m not the best at cracking jokes at the office and, except for a few amusing lunches with good colleagues now and again, I don’t laugh that much at work.

That being said, I was washing my hands in the bathroom the other day next to my Taanzanian colleague who also seemed to appreciate clean hands. He told be that a company we worked with a few months back kept calling him wanting to give a presentation and basically wanting more contracts with us. 

“They keep calling me and don’t know what to tell them; what should I do?” 

“Tell him to call me,” I replied "and I’ll tell him NO!” I added. 

My colleague burst out laughing, “Yeah because I can’t tell him no…ha ha ha…it is true…culture!” 

He shook his head laughing and we went back to our separate offices, but I was still laughing when I reached my office. This is a very particular culture where a “no” sometimes can be difficult to communicate, especially if the receiver is older than yourself. What I found so funny was that he openly admitted to it and was happy to hand over the case to me.  


Sunday, September 2, 2012

September 2, 2012 - Off to the Races!

The GOAT races, that is!

Yesterday was Dar es Salaam's Annual Charity Goat Races.  We didn't learn about the social event of the year until pretty late in the week.  It turns out that there is a herd of goats sort of "pushed" around a track a few times throughout the day at this event.  People sponsor teams and the teams come dressed up according to some theme.  Then at the event everyone can bet on the goats.  There are food and local craft or business tents set up in a big field with the racing "track" the middle.  There is a "kids area" with games and activities (our kids were way too young though).  There is loud music and a lot of pretty drunk people.

So of course we went!  We got to see one goat race (bad pictures taken below) and saw a few people we knew there.  Managed to get the kids each an ice cream popsicle before we called a day (lasted about 1 hour in total out of the 6 possible hours).  We saw some friends and admired their vision to come without the kids.  They told us, "Of course last year we brought the kids our first time and saw someone else without their kids.  This year we're without kids.  Next year it will be you!"  

I am not totally sure that we Goat Race kind of people, but it was a sight to see and now we know what it is all about.  It seems they raise a lot of money for various big charities in Dar and it was a very diverse (read: not just white expats) population who attended the events so that was also nice to see.




Just another day in Dar!

p.s. I forgot to report that my cell phone was stolen while we were there! ARGH!