A little of THIS and a little of THAT

Initially I started this blog as a way of sharing my experiences overseas with those that were interested...however so much has happened over the last two years, including more travelling to foreign destinations, revelations of some kind or other, and experiences I thought others could learn from that I decided to mix it all up.

I hope that somewhere you'll find something that interests you and that you'll be able to learn from.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Civillians Perspective in Afghanistan - Part 4


I can remember saying to myself and even to a couple of girls that were with me after stepping off the plane in “Host Nation” as we call it so the location is kept private and classified, "what the &^%$ am I doing here, why did I do this, and what the hell am I thinking", I think I said this many time in my six months. I was scared; nervous to even recite the speech that had been prepared for us for the passport control officer at the airport as to why I was there. I was scared I was going to screw it up. I couldn't have been more terrified of anything in my life then I was at that moment. Stepping into the terminal at “HN” was a sudden shock of reality that we had stepped into a whole other world.

Just thinking of all that was to come, all the possibilities, and surely what the next six months was to bring was beginning to become too overwhelming.

The two days in the "host nation", were just the beginning of our adventures, but it sure was some beginning. Walking down the main street already brought very obvious cultural differences when a man, who shall remain classified stopped me dead centre on the sidewalk and looked me up and down for what felt like forever. I was wearing what I deemed appropriate, my skin for the most part was covered, yet I was still dressed for the hot and humid weather that our host city employs. I wore short sleeves, capri pants, you know the pants that go to your knees, and flip flops, apparently not enough. I guess I was lucky when later a bird decided to leave his dinner on my pants, yes he flew by and pooped on me; apparently this in Newfoundland means that I will be lucky. I wonder for how long, and when does the luck run out?

I was finally seeing things from a different perspective then a typical Canadian. I was seeing a different part of the world that some people could only wish to see, and different parts that I didn’t care to see. I could now begin to relate to some of things that my husband spoke of so often after returning home. It was very different then what I was use to. Downtown was a big market, every street corner there was something different to see and buy, spices, jewellery and gold, blankets, trinkets, cookware. Can anyone say Prada, Gucci, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, every corner you went to someone was trying to make a deal with you, calling you “my friend”, asking where you were from? Aside from the peddlers, the country in itself was quite interesting and even beautiful in a different way. The architecture was stunning and I got some great shots on the buildings, and downtown core. Aside from downtown, which like the rest of the country employs people from other nations trying to make a quick buck, the rest of the city was booming in infrastructure, creating new housing, tourist developments, and theme parks which were going up all over the place. When at the end of my six months I went back it was unrecognizable. It looked more like Canadian Mississauga then where we actually were.

Mirage itself was good for the first day. We signed in, got all our PPE and equipment that we’d need for the next six months. Our downtown experience was fun, we had our own personal tour guide and met a few new faces, ones I won’t remember next time we go through, and ones that probably won’t be there, but still an experience.

The food in Mirage was amazing. We were told in training that Mirage eats well, and did they ever. Fresh fruits of every kind, and not just typical oranges and apples and pears, every tropical fruit you can imagine; mangos, star fruit, and fruits I don’t even know the names of. They had Baskin Robbins ice cream, and the yogurt there, now there was something special about the yogurt, it was like none I had ever tasted before.

Mirage was only a one night stay on the way the first time, in total I stayed there four days. The camp itself was small, aside from their five star gym, and a basketball court there was nothing to do. There was nowhere to go if you needed to be alone, than again after six months in the sandbox, there weren’t many options there either. Everywhere you went someone knew you. You housed with 1-3 other ladies, so taking solace in the comfort of your room was out of the question, at least in KAF your space in the tent was yours, the blankets that hung around gave what little solace there was. Leaving the camp in CM was out of the question as there were strict curfews, and buses ran on a tight schedule throughout the day, in KAF you could take the KAF tour bus, but that went nowhere besides around the camp constantly.

Cairo, Egypt

It is the 15th of February, late in the morning, we’re on our second day in Egypt, just come back from a satisfying breakfast, Ron has got his feet up Egyptian style letting his food digest, the kids are watching ENGLISH TV, and here I am, trying to get my creative juices flowing. If only the balcony was a little warmer, I would be in heaven, but alas tomorrow we will be leaving for another short flight to Sharm El Sheikh, I’ll be sitting poolside only seconds from the Dead Sea, laptop in hand and will let my fingers do the talking for me.

We arrived in Cairo on Friday on a very uneventful and one of the best plane rides I have taken, I can almost say there was no turbulence, just a couple small bumps, the food was...well airplane food, but all in all not terrible, when we arrived, happily so did all our luggage and without waiting an hour for it, the drive to the hotel was uneventful and we settled in well, but wait a minute. Did we just break all the stereotypes of bad luck and Friday the 13th? Yes that’s right, we were travelling on the most unlucky day of the year, and yet somehow it seems as if everything was going right, and not just right, but near perfect. That is until we got the kids in the room and then all hell broke loose. Was it a full moon? Overtired, hungry, and excited makes for a very bad combination. All I wanted to do was sleep, and they wanted to do was explore the hotel room ...make that apartment we were staying at; it certainly did make up for the broom closet we stayed at in Rome. It was nearing on midnight, and food was on the agenda. After waiting a good 45 minutes for 4 sandwiches with 4 fries we learned that even in a busy tourist area, there is no pork, a club sandwich here consists of roast beef, chicken and egg, an interesting but still good combination. Nearly 1:00am, it was time for bed, up early for a very busy day exploring with our tour guide. We all let our dreams flee to Mr. Sandman in no time.

Our first full day in Egypt was just that FULL. It started with breakfast at 7:30 am after a shower, the museum where you learn to appreciate how intelligent, gifted, and artistic the Egyptians were, and a tour that could have lasted two days to view all the pieces that were adorned, a stop at the Papyrus museum to pick up some pictures, it was finally time to stop for lunch. On the menu was what I was meant to be eating, what I had come to Egypt for. Digging deep into my Lebanese roots were traditional appetizers from both Lebanon and Egypt, my meal, fresh fish from the Nile. All you could eat, and all natural foods. Oh and did I mention the view of the pyramids we had right outside our window. After our lunch break, it was time to get back on the road again, two minutes down the road we arrived at the main reason for our trip in the first place, and one of Ron’s dream. There are 119 pyramids in Egypt, all located along the Nile River and our journey had started with the biggest of them all, a wonder that even I was astonished with, as one could not even fathom the size, it was bigger and stood taller than one could ever imagine. Egypt was not one of my dreams, seeing the pyramids was not something I had wanted to do in my lifetime, but not doing so would be something I would have missed out on. Not as it was many years ago, the roads leading up to another stack of this worlds large wonders was paved, we hopped in our tour guides van and off we went to discover what the inside of what one of these marvels look liked. The climb down was steep, dark, and you could only imagine how one could work let alone build such a stucture.

I wanted the kids to experience everything they could while in this vast dessert land, including riding a camel with the pyramids in the background, little did I know that Ron was negotiating for all of us, myself included to hop onto one of these creatures who didn’t seem the most friendly. So $100, 4 people, 3 camels, pyramids in the background, a half hour later and with much screaming and pleading from me; I swear I thought the camel was going to drop me and Anthony on our ass; we had our own PRICELESS moment.

I almost wish I could say our day was finished at this point, but it still included a trip to the Egyptian cotton store, where I managed to persuade Ron that Wal-Mart brand really was good enough, a trip to the Sphinx, and a long drive to the market, or Souk, much like the one I attended while in Dubai. A half hour there though was not nearly enough, and I’m walking away from Cairo with nothing but a small set of perfume bottles, that I’m not really sure why I bought other than; they’re pretty. It is not until the next day that I am informed that there is an even better market at the resort that we’ll be staying at.

So sometimes plans just don’t go as planned as was the case our second day in Cairo. Our plan was to wake up, eat breakfast and go for a walk along the Nile, find somewhere to eat lunch, finish our day at the pool once it warmed up, and head to the Hard Rock for dinner. We made it about as far as just down the street from our hotel, barely along the Nile walk path when our adventurous plans for the day were foiled. Now I’ll try and be as diplomatic as possible, which is really hard for me to do at this point as I’m beginning to see certain things through eyes of experience rather than being naive, as I usually am, someone who’s never been anywhere before.

We quickly realized again that we were tourists, out of place. Even in a tourist trap that houses the pyramids, we are still in a Muslim country where they don’t welcome women aren’t fully covered, regardless of how little you’re showing. Men and women both stare, mock, laugh, and even occasionally whistle when a “westerner”, or more specifically a “western woman” walks by in capri’s and a t-shirt. Fine, I don’t really care so much about it, they’re not use to it and have their own beliefs; although my feelings are that we all have our differences and beliefs and I’m accepting of differences in other people and their cultures. The old saying goes if we were all the same it would be a pretty boring world, although it seems as always there is always someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. As this has turned into a little rant I will turn it back to our foiled plans, our walk ended early not because of the rudeness (opps there I go again) and indifference to some, but rather because of a few hood rats who were so closely eyeing Robbie’s camera and kept following us. Every time we stopped, they stopped, until Ron finally gave them a clear look that we knew what they were up to and they moved on, unfortunately at this point our plans were ruined, Ron was irritated, and we headed back to our hotel where we took a early and very cold dip in the pool. We thought we could escape some of the culture at lunch in the hotel, as breakfast the last couple days had been quiet, I put on a skort, and we headed down to the hotel restaurant only to find it filled to capacity minus one table with ...well let’s say less than enthusiastic opinions of western culture. Our time in Egypt although a learning experience with arts and architecture was less than impressive or comfortable in any other way. If a visit to the pyramids for one is a must, than one day is all you need.

Cairo had nothing to offer, pretty at night as the mosques were lit and Nile adorned with lighted boats, but once the sun rose, and the smog lifted it was dirty and dreary, the only good things I could personally find was the natural and fresh foods and the fact that tourists were well taken care of in all the major attractions as there are tourist police upon all entries and all the hotels have police and security with dogs, all cars are sniffed before being allowed to go past the gate, and all people must walk through metal detectors before entering the hotel.
Alas we still have a full week at the resort, more to come on that later.

A Poem

Helpless, so far from home

I feel so alone, no one understands

Wondering, where did I go wrong?

I fell for lies, broken promises of a new chance

I’m too tired to start all over again

To tired to make it work

Fallen out of love so long ago

Tried to fool myself, but even I can’t lie anymore

I’m falling again, falling into empty space

That black hole once void is filling again

I can’t hold on, can’t get control

I’m falling deeper, falling harder

Slowly I fill my chest crushing beneath me

I can’t breathe, my heart beats faster

Tears fall, tears fall harder

How long till I hit the bottom again? Only time will tell

Will there be someone there to catch me or will I land alone?

Russia Update 2

Russia –An update, Part 2

As with all adventures, Russia has come with its good and bad. I have been in Moscow for five months now, just under six and a lot has happened.
Last I updated, it was just after Rome, Halloween, and Remembrance Day (or lack thereof). I can say that Russia was very easy to settle into. I quickly became friends with one of our neighbours and over Christmas I got to know one of our other Canadian families quite well, true colours starting showing quickly after “the new person”, myself had worn out her welcome, and I choose wisely who my friends are here.

I am slowly learning the language; the Cyrillic is almost down, although sometimes letters are seen differently and can throw me for a loop. I can count to 7 which is good for ordering the maximum 5 pieces of chicken I usually get, and the 7 articles of clothing I brought into the dressing room a couple weeks ago, and when we head to McDonalds I can order what I need in Russian, ok so it’s almost pretty much English with the exception of a few items, , but still without the English tourist sheet, and can relay “Savoy” (excuse if the spelling is improper), which is take out or to go.

I also know the Moscow METRO system like the back of my hand, but that in itself is another story.

I know that I am painting a rosey picture but my settling in hasn’t come without its struggles; I am instead choosing to focus on the positive points of my process. Believe me when I say that there are some days when I was fed up and wished I was back home with the harshness of some here, but just as quickly, the rare friendly smiles that come my way make it worthwhile and quickly change my mood.

In December we learned that we were pregnant, but a couple weeks later there were complications and just days before Christmas it was confirmed that we had lost the baby. Christmas in Moscow was quite busy, we had six parties to be present at, most of them were must attend, and it was with a heavy heart that we were present at each with a smile on our face. Grieving didn’t come till after the New Year.

Temperatures in Moscow still weren’t reaching under -12, snow still not amounting to much, it was funny to speak to friends and family who were back home cold and buried under snow banks. The kids had three weeks off for break, and we stayed home most of the time. We did enjoy some quality time sledding on the hill just feet from our house, and skating with our new skates in the compound, always followed by a warm fire back home and a cup of hot chocolate. The break also included another visit to Red Square to see the lights and the inside of the “onion” with friends.

The Russians really love to celebrate the New Year, the 31st of December was a huge spectacle with fireworks in the park right outside our back door, and everywhere else, they could be heard over the river just seconds from our house till as early as 4:00 in the morning. The kids played with colourful Russian sparklers and managed to stay up well past midnight.

February is a very busy month and it comes with a whole new chapter. Two days into the new month as a way to distract me and keep me busy, I missed having the kids with me and quite frankly staying home all day was just beginning to get boring and monotonous, the boundaries of the compound are seclusive, and confining.

I started a new job at the Embassy. My new job is long and complicated to list out what has to be done, but I can say that there is a lot of responsibility, it’s my show, and I don’t have to report to anyone daily as long as I’m getting things done, which I have. In my first couple weeks I have already made a lot of progress and am almost finished preparing and organizing the first part of my job.

I work four days a week; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Fridays, I leave home after the boys have gone to school, getting into work around 09:15, and I’m home by the time the kids get home after their after school programs. Wednesdays I take off as it’s a late start, it’s a free day to do shopping, and spend time with the boys. Wednesdays in our house is either the school late start, or breakfast at the school cafeteria. After school I pick Anthony up and we go to the cafeteria to have a snack or a treat. The very little time we get to spend with each other outside of the house as getting around is still proving to be difficult as I haven’t started driving the busy Moscow streets.

Being super mom is exhausting as any working mom will know, I get up early to get ready, get the kids ready in the morning, going to work all day and coming home to deal with cleaning, cooking dinner, more cleaning, and homework. Only two weeks into my job I am on my first vacation from it, a much needed one as working again is proving to be stressful and tiring.

I miss things back home, things you can’t get here. I miss chicken noodle soup, Campbell’s, and Kraft cheese slices for a proper grilled cheese, and with summer fast approaching I have an order in with my mom for salted sunflower seeds. It is when we go out to eat that I miss NO SMOKING in restaurants. I miss going out and about whenever I want, and taking the kids places without worrying about a language barrier. At the same time though I am growing from the experience, my resume will have grown after my time here, and my cooking is growing as well.

As with all experiences I take everything in stride, and learn from it, awaiting the next opportunity to arise.