Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Everything comes together...or NOT!

Well, a lot has been revealed in the last 8 days. Not all of it good. First off, the worst possible scenario has come true about the dishes...they never arrived! I unpacked boxes for three solid days and each day I was sure "this" was the box with the treasure trove of dishes. NO. Not a single plate arrived. No dishes of any kind. Now I am the kind of person who collects dishes. I probably had 8 sets of dishes/china in Austin, and I loved them all. In fact, I had a set of pretty pink rose antique china that I posted on Craigslist before I left. When the lady came to buy them, I could not part with them and ended up bequeathing them to Laura instead. Me, who loves to collect dishes and serve meals on a different set each night, arrived in Africa for a two year assignment with not a single place setting. Grrrrrr! After some investigation, I discovered that the moving company (who was supposed to keep all the kitchen things in the "send no matter what" category); had actually put all 4 boxes of dishes onto a different section of the inventory and they all went into storage instead of being shipped to me. Grrrrr. Now I have to decide if I should ship them (which will take 2-3 months), buy something online, or buy something here (not a good option). Wish me luck.

I did start running again lately, so those 100 energy bars will come in handy. Yesterday I ran with a group called the Hash House Harriers. Check out their google info. They were started by a British group about 45 years ago. They run every Monday night here; on different trails through the city. They are very active all over the world. Anyway, last night I arrived late to the meeting place because for some reason as I was leaving the Embassy, my car wouldn't start. I had Motorpool take a look at it (they are right on site, which is convenient) and all it was, was a lose battery cable connection. All the bumpy roads make parts come lose. I have to get it tightened eventually with a real tool. The car got started and I was on my way. I found the meeting place but the runners had already left. There was one lone runner on the side of the road and I shouted out the car window, "Are you running with the group?" He said he was, so I asked to join him. I parked the car and jogged to catch up. We exchanged names as we started the run and I happened to ask him how his weekend was. He nonchalantly says, "oh, I just got back last night from hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro." What irony! Just when I'm trying to get back into running, I end up running with some ultra runner who hikes Mt. Kilimanjaro in his spare time! As I began to get short of breath because we were climbing a mammoth hill, I informed him that I run 12 minute miles and since I could not possibly keep up with him, he should just run right on ahead of me! He smiled that pensive expert runners smile and said of course not! He stayed right with me the whole time; even when I had to walk up another hill that looked like a training run for Mt. Kilimanjaro. The total run was about 45 minutes long (which is about double what I have been running by myself on the nice flat beach!) and we got to know each other a little. He is from Iowa originally and he even has a name from the Midwest; Brian Larson. He works for C.A.R.E and has been with them for a long time. Said he took the bar and practiced law for a while, but didn't want to spend his life like that. Nice guy and he really was patient with me during the run. After the run, the group meets back together and sings silly songs and drinks beer. Crazy, but good way to meet new people.

I just spent the last part of my evening doing laundry and ironing 5 shirts. Before moving here, I can't think of the last time I ironed anything. There was such a thing as "dry cleaning" in Texas. Perhaps you have heard of it? Well, there is no dry cleaning here. Nada. I guess I will be ordering some Dryelle from Drugstore.com soon.

Speaking of things we don't have....beauty shops. The lady who cuts hair has been gone for 2 months on holiday. I have not had my hair cut since April when I was in DC. That's 4 months ago!! The other day, I actually took the little tiny scissors off my Swiss army pocket knife and trimmed my bangs. I could not stand it any longer. When we were in OMS training in DC, many of my OMS classmates commented on why all the OMS's who had been in FS for a while, seemed to have awful haircuts. They must have spent too much time in African countries and lowered their standards!!

Speaking of dishes...I had my first real party on Thursday night. Yes, that would be a few days after I discovered I didn't have anything to serve on! I had already planned the party and sent the invitations out. I went out and bought 30 plates from the local grocery store. The plates were sort of like "seconds" that you can get at china factories in Europe. There I am in the aisle, carefully inspecting each plate to find 30 "good" ones, when the power goes out. Of course, it's totally dark and I can't remember where I set my purse! No worries, the power came back on when the generator re-started. Everyone is used to it here, but it still surprises me. The party was a huge success and everyone had a good time. It was a going away party for a nice young man who was at the Embassy for a 3 month assignment. He was smart and capable and kind and funny and he reminded me a lot of Ryan.

I better get some sleep. It's midnight here, which is pretty typical for me. Oh, I have been trying to watch some of the Olympics but every single time I turn on the t.v., it's boxing and I HATE boxing!

Hope all is well with you in your corner of the world,

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Some things you learn late....

I'm taking a 10 minute break from unpacking boxes. I think I've gone through about 25 boxes so far. I still have not found any of my dishes, my silverware, or my crystal wine glasses. I have not found any wine glasses at all , in fact. I did unwrap some nice bottles of Champagne, Makers Mark, and Pomegranate liquor that I forgot I packed. I found about 100 natural energy bars, so if I ever get back to running again, I will have snacks to refuel. I have enough energy bars to train for a marathon.

This got me to thinking about "what" I packed from the Texas house. I think I had about 15 boxes of kitchen things. As I unpacked most of it, I started to have this uneasy feeling that if I didn't use it in Texas, why did I ship it all the way to Africa? I thought about this a little longer and eureka, it hit me. I USED TO COOK. At one time, I utilized my kitchen on a regular basis. I fed 5 people for something like 20 years and I actually used all the stuff I unpacked today. The key here is "used to." I really have not cooked that much in the past 7 years. In 1999, when we returned from Germany; Dave left for California, Ryan left for college in Philadelphia, Angela was already at A&M in College Station, and I went back to school full time. For the next 2 years, it was only Laura and I, and I made small meals because we were both busy with work and school. After Laura left for college, I barely made anything more than a sandwich; unless I happened to be cooking for a date. The rest of the time I ate meals out or ate soup late at night after studying. I continued to bake cookies and breads and bars and that hasn't changed even to the present day. I really love to bake, and most of my friends already know this, as they have tasted the fruits of my labor in the form of mint brownies and banana bread. But cooking? I have not cooked any more in Africa than I did in Texas. I'm out a lot; learning about the country and the people here in Sierra Leone. So when am I ever going to use the 4 polish pottery baking pans, the crock pot circa 1978, the cappuccino maker that only Robert learned to operate, or the Pampered Chef deep dish pizza stone that never made it out of the box since it was purchased in 2000? Probably never. The polish pottery makes a nice colorful decoration on the top of my kitchen cabinets, especially since the ceilings in the kitchen are 10 feet high. Another crazy irony is that I brought tons of Tupperware. Which begs the question: If I never cook, how in the world will I have leftovers to put in the Tupperware?

All this reminiscing reminds me that I need to mentally update my life every once in a while. I need to discard what I don't use anymore; not drag it half way around the world. I recommend going through the spaces in your life and your house and get rid of things that are obsolete. I think we carry around way too many "things" that we have to manage. I don't mean shed everything. I really like some things I unpacked; the polish pottery being one. I smile every time I look at the pretty dishes I bought in Germany.

Now if I could only find those plates.....


Saturday, August 9, 2008

House full of Boxes, oh my!

It's Saturday morning. I feel asleep on the sofa last night after a really long week at work and finally managed to get a full 8 hours of sleep! Of course, the pounding rain probably helped.

My HHE arrived and now I'm surrounded by boxes. A sea of boxes that I must navigate for the days to come. A word to the wise...travel light. I have 90 pieces of furniture/boxes total; for one person. I remember in Kenya where each person owned a coffee cup, a fork, and a blanket. Sure made moving a lot easier. I have really really enjoyed having my own bed again. And soft sheets! The welcome kit gives us sheets made of scratchy hardness. I forgot what it's like to lay on soft sheets! It was nice to see the antique coat rack, but they lost the little metal pans that go on the bottom for the umbrella holders. Hope they turn up. It seems strange seeing my white love seat in my living room in Africa. Seems almost a guilty pleasure to have it travel all this way. I'm planning to have a lot of fun unwrapping the kitchen things. I really want to find my Polish pottery and my china. I have never had a china cabinet before. Leave it up to me to base taking a new job on the notion that it comes with a free china cabinet! But I'll also be happy to see my wine glasses again. I am sick and tired of drinking wine out of beverage glasses! I'm going to start a list right now of things I want with me in my UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) for my next move. FS allows us 250 lbs of items they ship immediately to our next assignment. Topping the list will be: soft sheets, wine glasses, and 2 of my own towels!

Some of you have asked for photos. This is difficult for two reasons. One-I feel uncomfortable photographing people here. It's strange to snap a picture of someones life. I mean, it's not a novelty for them to be living in poverty. It's a novelty for me to take a picture of it. I'm trying to get over that so I can show you what it's like here, but it's not easy for me. It reminds me that I'm at the top of the class system here and that's uncomfortable for me. Two-even if I take the picture, downloading it takes so long that the computer usually crashes. Slow inernet connection here. (hey, I'm just happy they have internet and cell phone service, since they don't have running water or electricity!) So, in light of this, I found a web site that has some beautiful photos of the beaches here in Sierra Leone. I spend a lot of time at Bureh Town beach with friends. It looks exactly like the photos. Our cottage is right across the water from the island in the photo, so what you are looking at is the exact view we have from the veranda of the house. The first beach I went to was Lakka and it's also very serene; no people at all while we were there. River no. 2 (what a strange name!) is a little more busy; they even have people who will take your drink order and bring you a cocktail under a beach umbrella. Lumley beach is the beach in Freetown proper. That's the beach I run on. It looks exactly like that, and the sunsets are really amazing. I can see the beach from my apartment patio and watch the sunsets at night. It's about a 12 minute drive from my apartment to the beach. Now that I have the car, I hope to run there 4-5 times a week. Here is the link:


So, it's back to unpacking for me. Hope everything is well in your corner of the world!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Moving In

Today the shipment arrived from Texas. What a lot of stuff! While it was nice to see some things from home, a part of me wanted to send the big truck right back to the warehouse and tell them to give it all away! The irony of Foreign Service life is that they arrange it so you live with next to nothing for 4 months while you are at training and until your things arrive in country, so you get used to living with very little. Then, all your stuff comes and you wonder why on earth you decided to pack so much stuff and how on earth you will fit it all into your assigned house! It also reminded me strongly how much of a consumer society we are in American. I mean, I have 4 wardrobe boxes of hanging clothes and 3 large boxes of regular clothes and shoes. I mean, I'm not even a socialite! I have been getting along fine all these months with the clothes I bought in Washington and the few things I packed in my suitcases from Texas. I think I will do what other FS classmates have suggested...give a lot of my clothes away to needy Africans.

A recommendation to Foreign Service people who might be packing up for their first assignment. "Take half of what you think you will need." Literally, living a simple life is much easier. We go on assignment to meet people and work hard. We don't spend much time at home and having to manage a bunch of American stuff just seems silly. Bring what you really love and leave the rest behind. Here are a few funny stories about what arrived today:

*My bike is here! It still has my racing number on it from the last sprint triathlon. I would dearly love to ride it...but it's not a possibility here in Freetown. The streets are crowded with people, dogs, kids, chickens, broken down trucks, pot holes, street vendors. Smooth is not a part of the road structure and there are no shoulders or sidewalks. My bike will probably become a patio decoration!

*Somehow I ended up with the coffee table that matches the German furniture that I did NOT bring! That reminds me that moving day in Texas was so chaotic that some things got in the wrong shipment. The table was supposed to go into storage. Oh well. Not a big deal.

*I ended up with the mattress for the German bed that I also did NOT bring. I even got the sheets for that bed; which are double and I don't have a double bed here. Oh well. Maybe I will make a curtain out of the sheets!

*I brought my massive oak desk at the last minute because my first apartment was so crappy that the desk was inadequate. Now I have a nice State Department desk in my new apartment and a huge monster desk from Texas. Well, it could be worse, I could have no desk, right?

*I only had one thing arrive damaged and that was a metal candle stand that I bought at a garage sale. It says Made in China on the bottom, so that explains it. Not a problem.

I can't wait to unpack my kitchen things and start baking. I didn't have any measuring cups in the "Welcome kit" and I miss my banana bread! I also can't wait to unpack my own dishes. I think I have a "dish" fetish. I really like my colorful polish pottery and my china. Eating off white Corelle just does not make meal times interesting; much less fun for entertaining.

Enough about moving. I have boxes to unpack!

Hope all is well in your corner of the world,

Monday, August 4, 2008


So, I have not been home much, so I decided to stop by the grocery store and get a few things. You know...bread and milk and such. By the way, Laura, they sell Silk here! And did you know that Spam comes in flavors now? I bought "real" bacon spam. They don't have much lunchmeat here. Althought, miracle, they had salami at the supermarket today!

Anyway, parking is a problem at these places. A security guard helps you pull in and out of the lot because it's on a busy main road. They direct traffic (such as it is....two lanes, chickens, children, dogs, etc) so you can drive safely. After my shopping trip (after which the boy who carried out my things begged me to give him a job), I went to my car and the security guard said, "ok, I'm ready to drive you out now." Silly me, I handed him the keys and said, "ok, go ahead." I was parked on this really steep hill, in a place where I could hardly squeeze my body into the drivers seat and I thought it was so nice of him to offer to drive my car for me. Well, he just grinned at me as I handed him the keys. I took that for happiness at having the chance to drive a nice American car. He kept grinning at me and smiling. Finally, I got the idea that he was going to "direct me" out of the lot, not drive my car for me! So, I had to squeeze my body into the drivers seat; high heels and silk shirt and all. It was tricky but it made me laugh. I'm sure he thought I was crazy for even handing over the keys to him! Live and learn.