90 Days – Heading into Summer


inner peace So, it took a while to settle here in Kingston.  I haven’t been very patient with the resettlement process or the daily realities,  or optimistic about building a more interesting life here for quite a while. And as complaining posts don’t make very good reading, my blog and the impetus to write went silent.  But after the first disastrous year things have gotten better. We settled into a limited daily routine with occasional trips out to Negril, looked forward to friends and family visits, and the weeks have ticked by.  Now here we are at the beginning of April and the countdown to departure begins.

Its become a familiar routine now of checklist items: how to sell the car and buy a new one, when to schedule the pack out and airline tickets, and a million other details. There’s also a separate list of things that you want to do one last time before you go. In Manila we scheduled repeat trips to favourite places or tried to squeeze in a last chance visit to somewhere we’ve never been. In Kathmandu, I planned a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Bhutan, a short trip to Delhi, one more visit down to Pokhara, and another to my beloved Sapana Lodge in Chitwan. Unfortunately, these never happened because of the earthquake and our departure routines were almost bulldozed by the realities of the disaster.

Then there’s things you have to buy: handicrafts or items unique to the place that will shortly stop being home.   Its sort of a bittersweet ritual of remembering and appreciating your time, and how the 90/60/30 day post tradition started on the blog back in 2013.  It would be easy to overlook the tradition this time around because my checklist is short.  But we do have two more Negril visits planned and then there’s the embroidery project, which in itself is a opportunity to explore a positive takeaway from our time here.  ( I’ve done a cushion embroidery project in three previous countries where we have lived.) Its a tricky assignment to pick a design that fulfills a number of requirements: I need to find the design aesthetically pleasing.  It needs to be not too easy or difficult for my skill level, and it has to represent a positive aspect of my stay.  Also it has to be a personal experience from that place, not just something generally representative.  After much hunting for fruit, tropical foliage and rasta designs (that don’t exist), I was drawn to various birds as a subject.  Jamaica has a lot of wonderful, exotic birds, but I finally I settled on this pelican design.

I hesitated at first, as working in multiple shades of grey can be a bit monotonous.  But he has character and enough colour variation to make it interesting, and he makes me think of our regular walks around Mona Reservoir, which has been a real lifesaver for us. I doubt I’ll finish him before we leave, or even before we get to Serbia, but he’s arrived and on his way to being part of my small collection and Mr Pelican will keep me company in airports lounges and economy seats this summer.

News from Jamaica


I’m not sure if its fair to say that life in Jamaica has been the only reason that my blog has been so neglected the last six months.  But it has certainly been a significant factor.  The city is small and much of it is off limits to me, and I feel the fish bowl effect often.  My initial curiosity about the place has not been replaced, as it so many other countries, with a growing appreciation and knowledge of where I am.  The reason why is not a simple explanation, but the subject of a longer blog post for another day, perhaps.  For now, let’s just say I just haven’t made the usual connection with the place.

Glancing back at posts from other places we have lived, I’m amazed how many memories come flooding back from the smallest things and I think that in future years I will regret adding such a small Jamaican chapter here.   To break the silence I’m going to try a vehicle used by others:  A-Z.  Its a way to cover small things that remind me of Jamaica with the alphabet as my guide.  I’ll start tomorrow with A for Ackee…but in the meantime…some news…

The Foreign Service bidding season has kept us busy and we finally know where we are going next.  The news is good and we are very excited to give the following clue on where we will be living next summer:

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Any guesses?!

 

The Great Unpack….and how it turned out….


As promised and requested by my small (but growing) band of readers…  here are some pictures from our Kingston home after we finished unpacking.  For those unfamiliar with US government supplied housing, it comes furnished and we get very little say on style or colour choices, and some of it is quite horrendous!  We make do and try to make the best of it.  Its also challenging how you have to make the same personal stuff work in a different house which may be significantly larger or smaller than before.  Again, we try to make it work.

Here’s a little tour:

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The living room. How ever did we get served yet more lime green sofas and those dreadful striped chairs…just like Kathmandu (again?)  I tried to make the best of them with a colorful orange and green wall tree design.

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The dining room, however, was more challenging.  Too much government-issued cherry Drexel to hide!  I give up in here.  Maybe once the table is laid and there’s some colour with a better choice of tablecloth?

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One really nice feature of this house is the large screen porch.  The space was promising but challenging as they gave us hardly any furniture.  After a little begging, borrowing and the purchasing of a sofa, we managed to break it up into two living spaces with a wall of plants:

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…and an outside dining area.  This is still a work in progress.  More plants and furniture still needed, I know.

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…but the nice reading/seating area is mostly there…

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Note the iron security bars.  The whole city is wrapped in them…

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….as is our house.  And, yes, some days I feel like I’m in a cage.

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Upstairs the house has three large bedrooms, each with its own bathroom…

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…and the master bedroom has a massive closet which I have all to myself.  I had to hang up tshirts to fill it up!

Its a pretty nice space made infinitely better by the screen porch with the view out to palm trees and greenery. Many townhomes here–including ours–are traditionally built to be dark and cool. Although ours lacks light too, the screen porch is cheery and the view is nice. Most of all I like the access to fresh air and the porch sofa is a favourite place to curl up with a book.

…And now let’s take it all out the boxes again..


Its so hard to imagine your new home in a new country before you get there. Especially in Kingston, as they had no pictures to send us in advance. No amount of Googling and scanning the streets with Google Earth really gives you an impression of your new home. But arrive we did, and the streets of Northern Kingston turned out to be much more attractive than the internet let on.

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A typical street near us. Green hills beyond, lots of ups and downs, pot holes and palm trees.

Three weeks after we moved in, the handbuilt crates that we watched Nepalis build in our garden showed up with all of our possessions.

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Here we go again!  Oh the unpacking!

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I made some kind of effort to get the boxes in the right rooms but a lot of it was hit or miss

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Looking from the ‘would be’ living room through to what was going to be the dining room

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The kitchen was much more modern than Kathmandu but we almost all our appliances were either broken or missing. Part of my shaky start here.

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Note the wooden shutters to either side of the French doors are typically Jamaican from before the world of air conditioning came along. They are closed in the picture, but we now keep them open to let in light as the house is pretty dark.

 

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The typical car port that so many townhouses here have. Good for unloading and loading the car in the tropical rain, but they block a huge amount of light.

Anyway, this is a little glimpse of home life here. We are unpacked and trying to make it home. Another blog post of the finished product may follow!

30 Seconds: Packout


Well..’tis done.  Everything is back in the box and heading into the pale blue grey, dusty yonder…

The packers were very professional and fast.  I was pleasantly surprised to be truthful.  It was very encouraging.

Its hard to be leaving, and its not quite sunk in yet.  Here’s a little video glimpse:

30 days 10 days: Disconnected


disconnected

Well, I blew my “30 days from departure” post.

Its been busy, and I have come home from work drained.  But not so busy that I couldn’t have made an effort on some days.  I think the real problem has been the real lack of focus on the usual things that make departure memorable.  Forced to leave behind goodbye visits to places, people and friends because of the earthquake, I’m feeling disconnected from the whole departure process, which is sad.  And I’m not the only one.  I feel like others have checked out, or are barely functioning, or have simply lost interest in being here.  Others are still buried in the recovery efforts.  Everyone is physically or emotionally exhausted, or both.  These are the things that go on far longer than the earthquake does in the news cycle.

I’m feeling disconnected from Nepal, from arrival at our new post in Jamaica, even from the prospect of some time in the UK and Greece before we head to the US for home leave.  That will change.  The realities of pack out will force me to focus.  However, that’s the reason my blog has been silent all of June and I’d like to change that.  Just before the earthquake Wandering Cows challenged me to the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge which requires you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo.  I had every intention of participating, but the earthquake got in the way.  Now perhaps it will help me reconnect with my own blog and serve as a more positive way to reflect on some of the smaller, poignant stories that I have from my time here.  So, Five Photos, Five Stories coming up….stay tuned!

90 Days: Jamaican Me Crazy!


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Today we hit the 90 day mark.  That’s 90 days until we leave Nepal.  It feels so different from that same stage in Manila when departure was just three months away.  Different, how?  Well, for one thing I am very busy at work with a big project, and have work and play events scheduled out until almost departure day.  I’ve been so focused on all of that, the 90 day mark just snuck up on me.  By contrast, in The Philippines, I was ready to leave my job. As Manila congestion got out of control in my area of the city, it had ceased to be somewhere I wanted to live.  I was also looking forward to the next country, excited and hopeful about the prospect of living in Nepal.

This time its different…challenging in new and demanding ways.  Even though we have known for quite some time that our next post is Jamaica, I am still digesting this news.  I’m still chewing over it and trying to figure out how I feel.  It’s hard not to say that I’m super excited when I know what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to live in such a beautiful place, but part of me is holding back.  Part of my excitement is just the dose of change that this journey will bring, and part of my hesitancy is just that: change.  Moving around the world is amazing and also exhausting.  Jamaica promises little opportunities work-wise, and it is further away from Europe and our home. And — let’s be honest — I didn’t pick it.  And that grinds too. On a bad day, I feel  cheated.  On a good day, I remember Kingston’s relatively clean air, the fantastic opportunity to go and live on a West Indian island, and my sense of adventure.

Most days, I’m just getting on with the day-to-day.  That’s an area where we excel.  We have 90 days left and we have just planted new annuals in the garden.  Planting flowers when we don’t know if we will be there to see them grow has become a sort of family motto over the years, at least this time (within the bounds of reasonable expectations) we know our departure date…so we plan on tasting at least a few of our freshly-planted tomatoes before we go.

See you at the 60 day mark.

Ding! Ding! Round Three….


'... and no hitting below the belt like this...'

Ladies and Gentlemen!  In the right corner, still wrapped in a heavy duty robe, the voluminous State Department rule book.  Let’s hear it for the bidding process!  And in the left corner, coming out blindly swinging, are this year’s bidders. Let’s hear it for this year’s suckers!

I can’t believe we are at this again! Its foreign service bidding time and round three for us. Which country will be next?! For the last two locations we’ve have been on directed tours, which simply means that we get to say what our preferences are from the list of available posts but, ultimately, the powers that be pick our next location uncontested.  You’re going to Manila.  You’re going to Kathmandu…and like it or lump it, off you go.  I didn’t love that routine, but I am as starting to look at it with nostalgia, as the selection process for the third post is a whole different ball of wax.  What was originally touted as “from the third tour onwards you can pick your own post” quickly became a series of reality checks:

  • You have to pick from the series of posts available when you are.  That drops options radically.
  • You have to interview for the position and compete against what can be a considerable number of other candidates
  • “Who you know” starts to pay a big role.  Getting a good word in from other colleagues is important and this can really go against you if you are bidding on a post where you have no connections.
  • There are all sorts of rules on which post you can bid on depending on your grade or where you are located right now
  • And –probably worst of all – once you are made an offer you need to make a decision quickly.  If the offer is from a less favoured post, you have to decide whether to accept it, or reject it in the hopes that  your number one option will pick you (or not)  Ugh!

Does it sound like fun yet?!  Its very weird to have a job and still have to interview and compete for your next position.  Very unsettling.  I can’t disclose the countries that we are bidding on, but really hope to be able to announce somewhere next month.  Fingers crossed!

 

OK Kids. Time to Put Everything Back in the Box….


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Men at Work

Its surprising just how noisy 8 guys with tape guns can be.   The clunking, scraping and stretching sounds rip across the room like fervent roadscrapers, manically shoveling paths through snow.  A kind of Stockhausen-esque aleatoric composition with its own cacophonic melody.  Concerto for Tape Dispenser in G minor.    I could barely hear myself think above the din.

Drowning in stuff!

Drowning in stuff!

The more soft furnishings that disappeared, the more it echoed.  It took two days to put everything we own “back in the box”…some of it literally and some of it figuratively… and a third day to get it out of the apartment and out of our lives.  At least for a while.

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As if enough wasn’t going on already, the window cleaning platform showed up. For the first time in two years they cleaned the windows properly. Great timing!

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And then the boxes started to disappear

We are packed out and sort of back to square one with our home space, except now we aren’t  expectantly looking around imagining how the space with develop around us, we are remembering our lives in that space and in all of the things we did in the Philippines.

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Going…going….

GONE!

GONE!

I never in my life thought of living in the Philippines.  Its just not on most people’s maps or bucket lists (unless they’re Filipino of course).  It has been both surprising, fascinating, frustrating, ugly and beautiful.  Its hard to even remember my impressions and expectations when I first arrived, and yet when I glance back at my own blog from the first few days, I really feel the extent of 2.5 years here, everything we explored, loved and hated about living here.  Despite the frustrations with traffic and food quality, it has been largely a very positive experience that I am so glad to have had the opportunity to experience.  It my own small way I feel ownership for the land, people and language.  Made in The Philippines will forever mean something more to me.

I doubt we will have the opportunity to return.  We have so many competing places and relationships elsewhere and only limited time to visit, but who knows?  Maybe one day?  I know that even five years from now it will be a very different place.

 

This post participated in the Daily Prompt’s Weekly Photo Challenge: On The Move

 

This Kathmandu Thing is Starting to Look Real…..


moving to nepal

I hear that the truck that moves our stuff overland from Calcutta port to Kathmandu may have some similarities with this vehicle. Mmm….

We’re approaching the 120 day mark until we move and the months are starting to fill with due dates and moving realities.  Back in July, it was a year away and more conceptual than anything.  The lead up to Christmas was almost normal, although the realization was there that the one year mark had passed and seasonal activities and once-a-year events were not to be repeated during our stay in Manila.  The fun, to-do items on the Filipino check list got revised and prioritized, but not much else affected every day life.  Since Christmas with the countdown to departure looming, I have to admit I’ve been in a bit of a funk.  There’s no good, specific reason why I am feeling less enthusiastic or energetic than usual.  It seems to be a general rebellion against our life being put on hold until our travel orders are approved.  The organiser part of me is on a practical path to take care of details that aren’t move specific:  Taxes: in.  Closets: clean.   But the cheerleader in me is just sitting inert, looking at daily responsibilities and not feeling the love.  I just don’t like feeling like I’m in stasis, and that’s how it seems right now.  I know this will pass, and when it does it will be with a torrent of activity…(at least this time I don’t have to sell a house)… and I should be enjoying the quiet before the storm, but I’m not.  Let’s get on with this thing already….!!