Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Happy 3 month anniversary to us!

We've been here three months. Or as Ian says, 1/8 of our tour. No no, really, it's getting better all the time. We have friends to hang out with, our HHE arrived 10 days ago, our consumables arrived today (yay!), the kids are happy and the dog is still around. Heck, I'm even taking a part-time job at the Embassy. Good bye, free time!

But right now, I have more important things to think about. Like finding space in our kitchen for 1500 pounds of foodstuffs, making a cake for our arrival anniversary (did I mention... 3 months!!) and planning the cupcakes for Rebecca's birthday on Friday. Wow, she's going to be 8.

The Natural and Unnatural In the News

The Natural:
Bird flu has struck Indonesia with additional outbreaks in China

Last week there were new earthquakes in China and Iran, while Pakistan and India continue to try to get through the winter after their devastating quake.

In less than a month will be the one year anniversary of the 26 December tsumani that hit Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and as far away as the eastern coast of Africa.

The Unnatural:
Yesterday in the DRCongo, over 60 people died when a train crossed a bridge and items on the roof struck bridge support beams, throwing the people on the roof off the train onto the track or the into the river below.

For the first time, a woman has been elected head of an African country government. In Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf beat former soccer star George Weah for the position.

The longest serving head-of-state in Africa was reelected. President Omar Bongo of Gabon has taken his seat once again, and has been there since 1967.

A mine in China exploded. Over 140 have died.

The benzene spill from a factory in Jilin, China has passed the Chinese city of Harbin and is heading towards Russia on the Songhua and then Amur rivers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Did you Have a Nice One?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and/or friends.

We went to the Marine House with about twenty other people, quite a gathering for a 2-day prep time, and there was so much food. Individual units brought enough for an entire meal, and we were no exception with mashed potatoes, baked vegetables, a green salad, fruit salad, cranberry sauce, a big pot of macaroni and cheese and three cases of soda. We decided against bringing our turkey which turned out to be the right choice as there were 2 turkeys, pork, beef roast and shrimp. Another turkey didn't even make it out of the oven until dessert time.
It was all very informal without even a small blessing. A few of us looked around wondering how to do it since no one was clearly in charge of the affair, and by the time I had my food, half the people were already eating. Our little corner said a blessing and dug in.
The kids kept themselves entertained playing with foozball, outdoors with sports equipment and upstairs with the xbox and big screen TV. All went well until something disagreed with Rebecca and she lost her entire meal. In the front lawn bushes.
We left a short while later to put her to bed. She's fine now, and thinks she ate too much cranberry sauce and ran around too soon after. I believe it, it was hard not to overindulge on such a spread.
Yesterday we cooked up our turkey and it turned out fabulous, which is not just a surprise for my cooking but also for the local turkey we bought. We have another in the freezer for Christmas dinner.
Actually, I have a confession to make. A few weeks ago, we hired a cook. He comes in two days a week and makes enough food for at least four meals, but earns his pay simply with the green salad and fruit salad he makes regularly, as cleaning and prepping vegetables here is practically and all day affair. The kids love his food and have taken to asking before eating "Did Msr Mois make this?" If the answer is yes, they dig right in. If the answer is no, they start raving about what a good cook he is. Quite a blow to the ego, I must say. But I understand. I am a lousy cook and having plenty of really good food now is a wonderful thing, I don't hold a grudge. He makes a mean mango tart too.
Anyway, he prepped the turkey on Tuesday with herbs and spices and it was in the fridge "marinating" until yesterday's roasting. I did manage to cook it the right length and baste it properly, so I can take a -little- bit of the credit.
The kids still asked who made it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Another bad choice

Marox is the place to get meats. Last time, we purchased 2 different kinds of sausage, a white that is actually pretty good (if you don't think about what it's made of) and a brown we I cooked up last night. They cooked a little odd, popping the skin where I didn't expect. It was only when the kids cut in that we realized that this was not your typical sausage.

Inside the skin: chopped organs and entrails. It looked bad, it smelled bad. Parts of intestine and stomach with conspicuous cilia.

We ate salad and PB&J sandwiches.

I'm happy we have a dog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


We're just about unpacked, but for those random piles of junk. Over the weekend we did the bulk of the work and found plenty of humor in the labeling of some of the boxes.

In the Philippines, there isn't an "f" sound in the language. They call themselves Pilipinos. It's not something we think about much and certainly a piece of trivia quickly shoved to the back of our memories. Until we came across several boxes labeled "comporter". I couldn't figure out why we had so many computers, or why the packers misspelled it repeatedly.

Answer: Not computers... comforters.

Heaven Gazing

Check out the heavens sometime in the next few days, you won't be disappointed. Mars is still shining a wonderful orange glow and if you turn right around 180degrees and look about the same height into the sky, you'll have a great view of Venus. If you have access to a telescope, you'll discover the bright Venus isn't "full" but a brilliant crescent. Worth checking out. Saturn is along the horizon but I think it's moving up over the next few weeks. I'll let you know.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Turkey Day approaches (updated)

Initially it was going to be the 6 of us.

Then I invited Emily, the American teacher at school. Then Ian invited Rona, the Political Officer at the Embassy. This evening Rona asked if three Peace Corps friends can come too. I'm happy to give them a place to be with friends for the holiday. We thoroughly enjoy being with Emily and Rona, so having their friends will only make our circle bigger. Now to hope for a miracle tomorrow to get turkey or chicken enough to feed our 5 extra people. Do you think anyone will mind a big pot of macaroni and cheese next to the stuffing?
While I'm thrilled to have the company we're having I assured Ian over and over again that our Marines would be taken care of. It's standard protocol for the Chief of Mission (in this case the DCM since we have no Ambassador yet) to watch out for those "left out" of the holidays, notably the Marines and singles not already accounted for. Well... simply put there are no plans for the Marines. This is a problem.
UPDATE: Well, plans have changed. We're -all- going to the Marine House and it's going to be a Embassy wide big potluck. I still plan to bring the macaroni and cheese.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Trouble in Chiang Mai?

So, it seems that Kenya isn't too thrilled with Chiang Mai's plans for some of its animals.

*Digging Out*

*stretch* *wipe pants* *wash hands* *stretch*

We received our HHE on Friday. Yes, everything that was packed up back in February is now back in our possession, and we've spent 2 days unpacking. So far, the boys' room is completely done. That's it. The girls room needs more work, but it's free of boxes. Our bedroom is just about done, but for the multitude of laundry piles with all the sheets and towels with a musty boxy smell. The den is habitable but far from presentable. The kitchen is free of boxes but the counters are unusable. The living room? Let's not go there. Tomorrow we'll do the last big unpacking, and next week I have Monday-Wednesday to do the major finishing up (refiling papers, organizing books, finding things in the kitchen) before Thanksgiving. We've invited a couple folks over for the holiday so I'd like the place to look neat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Family Pique-Nique

The Sunday I was feverish, which seems like eons ago, we went to a picnic at the Peace Corps Director’s house.

Although they don’t have children, they invited all the families they know. From newborns to highschoolers, the kids attend the Belgian school, French school, American School, British school and homeschool. Many spoke English, more spoke French, a bunch spoke other languages too.
I curled up in a chair and sipped Sprite while Ian made the rounds, but one gentleman stood with us for a while. His family is from Belgium and they are here with the West African Development Bank. Oddly enough, he’s posted to Togo but there are no WADB projects in Togo, he has projects in all the surrounding countries. Togo could use the help but the local government isn’t interested so… anyway.
Conversations between the newly introduced generally follow a pattern. Because we were at a family picnic, it started with where we’re from, followed by small talk about the families/kids/schools, moved on to what brought us to Togo, and progressed to our previous posts. (Actually, this pattern is common in many informal settings.) Well, they’re from Belgium, I already mentioned, and his two boys attend the Belgian School. They’ve moved every year for the past 3 years and are hoping to stay here for 2-3 years to let their boys settle in a bit. Their last post was… the Philippines. You can imagine the rest of the conversation…. What school did the kids go to, where did you live, etc. Well, the boys didn’t attend ISM, instead they went to the European International School (or something like that). And where did they live? Dasmariñas Village. They lived two streets behind us, and they’re boys played at our playground. I took a closer look, and yes, their younger son especially I remember.
Manila to Lomé between 2004-2005. Can the world get any smaller?

Why do we miss the fun stuff?

It never fails that once you’ve been somewhere, they decide to make it extra cool. Take Chiang Mai, Thailand. A year ago this month we were traveling around Bangkok and Chiang Mai, poking around temples, chatting with monks, visiting palaces and boating down the canals of the former Venice of Asia (no longer since most of the canals have been filled in).

A year later and Chiang Mai is opening their very own Night Safari Zoo, copied from the original Singapore Night Safari we did get to enjoy during our 2004 R&R. Only Chiang Mai is going a step further. Not only can you view the wildlife, but for the Grand Opening on New Year’s Day, VIP guests will be treated to an “Exotic Buffet.”

Anyone ever had a hankering to taste lion, giraffe or elephant?


You wouldn’t think it, but the bird flu is making an impact even way over here. Ian had a briefing yesterday at work on the subject. Here’s a quick breakdown of Embassy plans.

Currently, there is no confirmed case of bird flu in all of Africa. Concern arises with migratory bird patterns and since some crazy birds actually fly thousands of miles across continents and oceans you can figure out the potential problem. A friend of ours in Kuwait said they have a case of bird flu in a migratory flamingo. I’m really not kidding.
So the briefing discussed our options, which are pretty straightforward. This is how I understand it (clarifications and corrections later):
A) Should bird flu in a bird be confirmed anywhere in Africa, our Authorized Departure orders will be drawn up.
B) Should bird flu in a bird be confirmed anywhere in Togo, Authorized Departure orders will be given out. That means non-essential personnel (yours truly and the rugrats) can leave on the gov’t dime if they wish.
C) Should bird flu be confirmed in a person anywhere on the continent, non-essential personnel get Immediate Departure.
D) Should human to human transmission be confirmed anywhere on the continent, essentially the Mission shuts down.
This raises interesting questions of course, as our friends in Beijing are already discovering. They have their Authorized Evacuation papers already drawn up, waiting to be dispersed. Their system is a little different than ours because bird flu has been present in Asia for a while now, and they have the Tamiflu vaccine (edited: Tamiflu isn't a vaccine, it's an antiviral med. It hasn't been proven against avian flu. 28 Oct 2005: Cnn.com: "Tamiflu is a prescription pill designed to treat regular flu. But it also seems to offer some protection to people against the type of flu that has devastated Asian poultry flocks and is spreading to birds in Europe.") available to Embassy personnel. If people in China or the neighboring countries fell ill (and falling ill isn’t a joke, there’s a 50% mortality rate in human cases), they’d be under Evacuation orders. Of course, then there are other issues… how safe are the travelers on the planes? What if borders start shutting down? One friend in Beijing is traveling to the States to complete the Naturalization process, another friend in Beijing is traveling to New Zealand in December for her R&R. Would folks be able to leave China or enter the States? Will countries shut their borders if you arrive from a confirmed bird flu country? What if you can’t get back? If people decide to wait it out in-country, they’ll be house-bound, potentially for months.
We don’t have Tamiflu in Togo and goodness knows we don’t have the medical infrastructure here to deal with a bird flu epidemic. Emily is a vegetarian so the bird flu isn’t a great concern to her but yesterday, she told me of some chickens that had snuck into her buildings courtyard. Here’s the thing: bird flu isn’t something to catch from eating cooked fowl or eggs. The people most as risk are those around live fowl. Like poultry farms and processing plants, chicken coups and outdoor market places. Or just walking down the street past flocks of chickens pecking their next meal.
Asia has a problem. So does Africa.
Edited to Add: I flipped through CNN.com and news.BBC.co.uk right after posting this, and wouldn't you know, China has had it's first confirmed human death in a poultry factory worker.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Tonight the tree next door was filled with flying mammals.

It's eerie when the sky fills up with bats, but even more when one takes a nose dive into a low palm tree in our yard. Bats are not graceful when they're trying to untangle from palm fronds and they aren't pleasant creatures up close.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Journal Entry #500

The Mundane

I am fine. I don’t know what the fever was, but it hit hard and left just as quickly. Ian is still suffering from his intestinal issues. After going to work Monday and Tuesday with visitors from Embassy Accra, he took today off and is drinking fluids and sleeping. Katherine’s ear is all better, but now Rebecca has an earache. Jonathon has had two wet bed nights in a row, something that hasn’t happened in a year or more. He’s probably growing again.
The Halloween party went well at the school. We made an awesome cake for the cake walk, the rain didn’t ruin it all, and the Marines scared the pants off kids in the haunted house. Jonathon almost missed the whole party. Just as we were climbing in the car, he decided he didn’t want Nicholas sitting next to him (the drive is all of 3 minutes to the school), so he bit him. Out came Jonathon, and I sent the rest of the family on to the festival.
Well, I was going to simply stay home, but the decision gnawed at me. He’s 4 and he’d been looking forward to the Halloween festival for weeks. Was it fair to have him miss out completely even though he committed a serious offense? After a half hour of solid crying (him, not me) we made a deal. He would have to apologize directly to Nicholas once we arrived, and when it was time to leave, he had to do so without complaint even though he wouldn’t have as much time to play as the other kids did. He agreed, so we set off down the street, him wearing full Spiderman gear. We drew quite a few stares from the folks on the street.
There were booths set up all around for bean bag toss, mini golf, fishing, face painting. Plenty of food to buy, most didn’t get soaked by the rain. Unfortunately, many of the booths were left up to highschoolers to run, with no adult guidance. The cakewalk was one such activity, but it never really got off the ground since we were one of about 3 people to bring a cake. For some reason, ours disappeared behind a piano (the cakewalk was in the music room) and when the kids asked to participate (yes, to win their own cake back), the highschoolers put slices of some other cake in their hands, shooed them out and shut the door. We never saw that cake again and as far as I know, no one actually won it. Hmmmm, where could it have gone? For those wondering, it was a Betty Crocker chocolate dome cake with white icing.
The library is coming along nicely. All that’s left is the section on mythology and poetry. Those books haven’t been cracked open in a decade. Thanks to my dad for sending such awesome library posters!
Sable has her ups and down. I guess dogs go through grow spurts just like people do, right now she’s not eating anything and sleeping all day long. She’s finally big enough to stand on the stop step in the pool, but she still doesn’t like it much. She’s learned the command Sit, and we’re working on Stay, Come, and Fetch. My parents set her a set of her very own tennis balls. Once she’s up and perky again, we’ll give her one to chase.
I thought our HHE was supposed to arrive on a boat yesterday, but it’s now scheduled to arrive on Friday. Friday happens to be a holiday for the Embassy but that’s OK because it will probably take a couple weeks for our shipment to progress through port customs once it’s offloaded.
We took possession of our car last week! We’re so happy to have it here. It drives extremely well even on these roads and it’s a gorgeous car to boot.
Thanks so much for all the recommendations for our trip! They’ve been as varied as South Africa, Greece and Sweden and if anything, they’re making a Final Decision that much more difficult!

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Here's an interesting story

From CNN:

MEGIDDO PRISON, Israel (AP) -- Israeli prisoner Ramil Razilo was removing rubble from the planned site of a new prison ward when his shovel uncovered the edge of an elaborate mosaic, unveiling what Israeli archaeologists said Sunday may be the Holy Land's oldest church.



I haven't had a more miserable day since July 4th, 2003. Yesterday I was sick with a 102 fever, chills, headache, sore throat, earache and back ache. The fever finally broke last night about 8 p.m. and a couple tylenol PM helped the headache and earache stay away enough to get a fairly decent night sleep. This morning, the worst has passed and I'm down to one ear aching every time I swallow. Katherine has an earache as well, Ian and Nicholas have tummy/intestinal issues. So far Rebecca and Jonathon seem to be OK.

For everyone out there screaming "Go to the doctor! It could be malaria!!" don't think I haven't read up on it. If I was still miserable today, I would have gone first thing. But there is a fever going around so I think I'm one of the unlucky to have caught it. If the fever comes back, I know to get myself to the clinic ASAP.

This has actually been a busy week. I'll go into it more later, but Tuesday and Thursday were holidays for Ian. Wednesday the Regional Consular Officer (RCO) was in town and on Wednesday we received our car. Thursday and Friday were 1/2 days for the kids. Friday was parent/teacher conferences and first quarter report cards. Friday we also invited Emily over for pizza and a movie. Saturday was the Marine cake cutting for the 230th Anniversary. Sunday we went to a picnic thrown specifically for families by the director of Peace Corps.
Of course there's more to say about each of these things, but right now I'm chugging water and thinking about heading back to bed now that Ian and the kids are off. Ian would have called in sick today but he has consuls from Ghana coming to the office this afternoon. The kids are doing painting after school so I have until 3 p.m. to get all the laundry washed and dried, depending on how I feel folded too. And the dishes need to be washed. If I get those 2 things accomplished, I'll consider the day a success.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Hi, we're back.

Our modem got fried earlier this week, so now we have a new one and a stack of e-mail to respond to. Hang tight :)