Wednesday, April 9, 2003

April 2nd: Checking in

Wednesday April 2nd: Today was a longish day. I was awake at 3 again, but managed to doze until 6. Around 9 a.m. we all headed over to the Chancery (Embassy to all you non-State Department folk) where I finally got my badge to wander around the grounds and buildings should I ever be immensely board. No, really.

Besides lots and lots of armed guards like Marines and PNP (Philippine National Police) there’s really little of interest to look at. We did see Ian’s cubicle, sparse and tucked away as it was while he faxed all the info to the school. It didn’t seem to matter to the Foreign Nationals who work in the IV lines. They crowded around, oohing and aahing over all the kids, commenting on their eyes and for the 5th or 6th time we were asked if the boys were twins. No, I’m not kidding. I honestly think they look nothing alike, but when they are both walking down the hall, I can’t imagine how 2 boys who are easily 4 inches different can be called twins!
So from the Embassy we went to Seafront. Seafront is a gated Embassy community filled with apartments and townhomes for smaller families, but it also houses the Rec Center pool, a future restaurant, the CLO (Community Liaison Office), the Transportation Office (will we ever get our boxes or our car?) and the FPO (Fleet Post Office) along with several other offices and the shops (metalworks, woodworks, etc). Oh yeah, yesterday we requested a gate be put in at the top of our stairs but it has to be custom made so with some specs written down, the builder is off creating a gate for us.
First stop was the Medical Clinic. We turned over our yellow cards, filled in too many forms, had a chat with the physician and guess what! I’d actually remembered to bring along Katherine’s physical form for the school and they did it right then! Something finally went right for the school. Even better, the office let us fax it right then. Sweet. The only thing that concerned me was when I mentioned keeping the kids out of the high heat sun and she looked at me funny and asked Why? Well, uh, they’re really pale and we just left a place where it was snowing and I’ve always known to avoid the mid-day sun because of the strong rays. She said I’d simply have to accept that we’re living in Manila now and being in the sun was a fact of life. Well, being raised in Africa, I still knew to stay out of the hot sun when possible and don’t see why it should be any different now. Letting the kids swim and play in the sun is one thing, but if we can avoid swimming at 1 and instead swim at 4, I say why not.
Off to get some lunch before our next appointment with the CLO. Well, there’s no place to eat on the compound but we find that there’s several options down the street outside the gates. The kids get their first taste of the true Manila as we traipse down the street in our obvious foreigness, on sidewalks that aren’t kept clear, next to the street that has jeepneys filled with people, the sounds, the smoke, the shops, the alleys, the air pollution that bounces off your face. Rebecca was asking for a bandana to cover her nose, a common sight on people in the street and in the buses (the ones without windows, much less air conditioning). After a couple blocks we found a pizza place, the name escapes me at the moment, where we had a choice of pastas or pizzas. Ah, pasta. The country seems in love with the concept. They haven’t quite gotten it right, but the idea intrigues them. You can buy pasta at 7/11, you can buy pasta at Jollibees (the Philippine equivalent of McDonald’s), you can buy pasta at KFC. Spaghetti, lasagna, macaroni, it’s all here and everywhere. We ordered, and had the lunch delivered to the table. Thank goodness the kids ate, even Jonathon. He’s been so so picky of late, but he ate a whole slice of pizza. OK, so the pizzas are only 6 inches wide, but he still ate. When we were done, they came to clean up our plates. Fast food served, cleaned up and eaten off real china. All 6 of us ate for $5. We also had some dessert. Mango slushie in essence, but what we thought was a pile of crushed ice was instead… well, how does one describe it. I would fathom a guess at hardened plain gelatin cut in little chunks. Think bits of Jell-o jiggler without the taste. It was interesting, and I’m just glad the kids like mangoes so much.
Lunch over, we did the return walk and went to the FPO to mail some letters and a package. Who knew that we should have kept all the Priority Mail boxes we passed on to friends and family? Went to the CLO, received a welcome packet that we informed the CLO would be amazingly useful if provided to each home prior to a new arrival. We sure could have used some of the phone numbers and information in the past week! We also asked if there was a list of available teen babysitters as we’re not hiring a yaya but would like to be able to hire someone on a one-time basis to watch the kids if we go to a function. Oh, doesn’t that sound important. A Function. Wheee. She was very helpful in calling around about the guarantor letter for the school and we discovered it isn’t necessary and there’s a standing agreement with the Embassy, just as Ian anticipated. Again we’re asked if the boys are twins. *sigh* No, they aren’t. I should be keeping track.
Off to the Housing Office. Our contact isn’t in, so we went to Transportation. This was a long visit, but Ian handled all the details while the FSNs came to see the kids and gave them paper and markers to color with. I was seriously running out of ideas for items for the girls to draw while Nicholas was falling asleep on the couch and Jonathon had fallen asleep nursing. It was a quiet hallway, I promise.
We finally got home and there’s something I have to say about personal drivers. They appear out of nowhere. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. We can be earlier or later than the time we’d specified and it doesn’t matter. We walk out the gate, and the car appears. It’s like magic.
Finally home, we discover we have a mango tree in the yard and the mangoes are even better than the ones we bought. After dinner we hop the kids off to bed and wait for the woman who manages the car rental we have so we can sign the lease for the month. After some discussion, Ian broached the topic of the driver we have now. We really like him and wondered if there was a way to hire him as our driver for the next 2 years. Ah, well. Not only does he work for this rental company, he’s also the personal driver for the manager! Well, that makes things sticky, but she’s willing to work out a split time program. It’s something we’ll definitely think about.

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