Friday, September 9, 2011

[Virtual] Fist Bump

Check me out, I just “built” a new home for The Blog [sorta] all by myself! I will now be blogging at my permanent new home of It’s a Wanderlust Life, come visit!  I don’t know how long this nomadic life of ours will last but it was time to find a permanent home for The Blog so as to have one less suitcase to cart around with us.  The Blog will grow and travel as we do.  And just like our physical house, The Blog will undergo some significant “interior decorating” so expect to see changes each time you come back.  The URL here for It’s Kili Time will remain active but no further posting will occur here, so I’m afraid you’ll have to go re-subscribe over there.  Come check it out, It’s Phnomenal!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Four Months, Four Continents–Asia (at last!)

We finally made it!  It only took ten flights and sleeping in ten different beds over the course of ten weeks to get us into our own house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Admittedly, we’ve actually been in-country for about 6 weeks now.  But I wanted to wait and write until we actually were in our new home which only happened one three weeks ago.  And extra bonus, our shipment from Arusha arrived just the other day over a week ago.  Say it with me now, ‘EXHAAALLLLLE!!’

Even with boxes and bags still unpacked, it feels great to be in our own home again.  We can’t express enough gratitude to the people who have extended us warm hospitality over the past few months, especially our friends here in Phnom Penh who let us crash with them for 3 weeks!  Not only did they give us beds, 24-hr a/c and good company, but they also helped us get oriented and settled and made our transition all the more smooth. 

After about one week in-country, Millie started the summer program at her pre-school.  She didn’t like getting dropped off, but by the time I came back for her three hours later she was all “Mama, who?”  Those precious three hours allowed me to check things out around town and start preparing for the move into our new house (which we had settled on by week 1, but was not available until Aug 1).   The availability of *things* here is much better than Arusha, and even moreso than Nairobi, so you can imagine how well our savings account is going to fare here.  The restaurant options seem endless, as do the croissants, pastries, ice cream and coffees (now you know my priorities).   According to some long-term expat residents, Phnom Penh has developed at the speed of light (i.e. five years ago, there was only one ATM in town) and there doesn’t appear to be a slowdown.

Contrary to my over-prepared tendencies, I knew very little about Cambodia before coming here.  The only things that I knew about the place, for sure, were Khmer Rouge, its hot and coconut milk.   Honestly, I had no idea what lay ahead.  While hoarding and gorging back in America, Roger kept saying “I’m sure you’ll be able to get this in Phnom Penh, don’t buy 10 of them!”  He was a little more right than I’d like to admit (throws off the relationship equilibrium, right?) but not totally.  To be sure, it’s comforting to see so many familiar brands, like Pepperidge Farm, Pantene and Honey Nut Cheerios.  But also to see so many exotic and appealing things on the shelves and in the windows as well keeps my brain buzzing and anxious to get out and taste/see/touch!

So far the main exploration we’ve done is the commercial kind – supermarkets, restaurants, furniture stores, cafes, markets, restaurants, indoor play areas, pools and I think we hit up a restaurant or two.   We did manage a brief promenade around Wat Phnom where we saw Sambo the Elephant, but our interest was quickly diverted at the site of a colorful playground across the street.  But mostly we’ve been busy unpacking and setting up house while simultaneously keeping and active toddler occupied and content.

Pathetically, we haven’t even opened the camera bag since we’ve been here! Thus, no pictures in this post.  Hopefully, we can correct that wrong in the coming weeks as we settle into a more predictable routine.  But here are some tidbits about our life here:

- We bought a car from an outgoing German diplomat .  It’s a Hyundai Santa Fe.  But its in the shop now (part of the buying arrangement).  Driving here would be considered crazy by US standards, but having lived in Arusha, it’s probably just one notch worse than there.  At least in Arusha the road was sort of narrow so there was a limit to how many minibuses, motorcycles and non-motorized things could pass you going the wrong direction.  But here there are so many moto’s and tuktuks who don’t even hesitate to drive up the opposing lane of traffic to reach their destination that it can be intimidating.  Nevertheless, we’re braving the wild roads and driving ourselves (versus hiring a driver).  Everything we could possibly need or stuff our faces with is essentially within a 4 mile radius and I’m pretty comfortable driving that radius, but should we venture out beyond, we might want to pop a Xanax beforehand.

- We moved into a house that can only be described as an Asian Zen McMansion.  It’s humbling how big it is (5BR all en suite!) but we’re grateful for the space and unique design.  It stood out amongst all the houses we saw which boasted “Western-style” but were laden with heavy wood, dysfunctional layouts and general hideousness.  Plus, the house is designed to rely on ceiling fans and air flow to control the temperature, although every bedroom has an a/c unit, which appealed to us because electricity is expensive here.  This house not only has a one-of-a-kind design but also is located close to everything, including the shuttle stop for Roger’s bus to work!  We live directly behind the Phnom Penh-equivalent of Target.  But we also live next door to the Passport Office, so it keeps the street kinda busy and loud during the day (supposedly its relocating next month  tho, according to the goss on the street!).  We can walk to so many things – supermarkets, ice cream shops, cafes, art galleries, boutiques, the dr’s office, toy store and the trendy artsy street.  And so much more if it weren’t for the pesky heat/humidity.

- The Heat. [enter drama queen].  Holy beads of sweat, it’s hot here!  Granted, its no worse outside than sticky summer on the East Coast, but I basically function in a constant glowing state and have never taken a warm shower here (I take like 3 cold showers a day).  In the house, if you’re not moving a great deal and the fans are on, its comfy.  But climb one flight of stairs and you need to reapply your deodorant.

- Croissants, baguettes and coffee are on every single corner and every single one is delicious and seductive.

- Roger likes his job.  He has a 1 hr commute each way, but luckily its on an aircon’d bus so I haven’t heard much complainin’.  The court here is much smaller than the one in Arusha which I think he appreciates.  Nice co-workers, nice boss, nice office, depressing work topic – what more could a guy ask for? Oh, and his office has a/c which basically makes it paradise.

- The currency here is the Riel but most everything is priced in US dollars.  I have had a few things quoted to me in riel, but usually its in dollars, esp if its over $2.  When something costs $4.50 and you pay with a $5 bill, you will get 2,000 riel in change (bills, no coins here).  Or when you want to pay the exact amount, you pay with $4 USD and 2,000 riel. 

- The national language is Khmer (pronounced kuh-mai) and we only know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank-you'.  I am quite intimidated to learn the language…. I have never ventured into the non-phonetic pronunciation realm of languages (except for French, but I basically just speak Spanish with a French accent to get my point across).  English is more widely spoken here, as far as I can tell, than it was in Tanzania, but then again we’re in a capital city so that probably has something to do with it.  With so much English around, let’s just say it’ll likely be hard to motivate.

As I wrote all this and re-read it, it was just the kick in the rear I needed to have me climb the stairs (sweat), unearth the camera (while sweating), check the battery (sweat bead down my back), descend steps to office in search of battery charger (sweat abating as I enter breeze from fan) and plug in the battery (start running cold water for my 2nd shower of the day).  Hopefully, next time you come 'round we'll have pictures to inaugurate a new home for the blog (which, btw, I need serious help setting up.... volunteers??)! 

From the month of April until the very first day of July, Millie and I will have had our feet on four different continents in as many months.  We start in Europe, return to Africa, pop over to North America and then eventually land in Asia.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Four Months, Four Continents - Good to be in America

After the last box was sealed shut, we began our 30 hour trek back to America via Mombassa, Kenya, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Rome, Italy, Washington, DC and ultimately landing in Denver a mere 30 hours later. Prior to any trip to the US, we began our preparations with the usual rigorous regime of excessive online shopping.  In addition to being greeted by Grandma and Grandpa, our welcome home party was also attended by at least a dozen boxes who all flew in just for our arrive from remote corners of cyberspace.

Despite being American and having spent the greater share of our lives in the US, when living overseas (esp in developing countries) America can feel like an impossibly distant star that shines upon you but is reachable only via long flights or small corners of suitcases belonging to incoming house guests.  Endless choices of cereals, walk able sidewalks, quinoa (not just plain white rice) and swift download speeds all shimmer in my mind of what's great about America.  So it was with some consternation that as I deplaned on US soil, that I dragged a little suitcase behind me filled with self-righteousness.

You see, I had just finished reading Omnivore's Dilemma, the book that tells you to stop and consider where your Big Mac and free range chicken has come from before you take one more bite.  I had avoided that book for a long time because I didn't want to *really* know the truth about where my food comes from [not to mention that whole little bit of having previously been employed by the US agriculture sector....].  But with all my food blog and culinary trend reading increasingly pointing me towards eating locally and seasonally, I figured I should find out what the whole mess is about so I could talk like a native and not stick out like a sore thumb once back in America.

Like many who came before me, the book really affected my taste buds.  I started looking at the gloriously well stocked shelves in a whole new light (i.e. as corn stalks).  Every bite of the sweet crispy Cool Ranch Dorito became less and less satisfying.  Where were my freshly picked bunches of arugula that I'd grown to love in Arusha? Where was my fresh off the griddle chappati?  If the yogurt wasn't homemade, it wasn't worthy of my Honey Nut Cheerios.  I was actually employing self-control in the food department without even being beholden to the likes of Weight Watchers or South Beach, I couldn't believe it!  Check me out and my soda water with a twist of lime drinkin' self!

Aaaannnnnddd, scene!

That little self-congratulatory episode lasted even less time than those 428 pages took to read.  It was impressive.  I wish I could point to that one turnaround moment or bite of food that told me I was fooling myself.  It was probably the subconscious realization that our time in America would end a few weeks later and I'd be heading to another developing country (albeit one with an AMAZING food scene) thus I must hoard and squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of my Utz Sour Cream and Onion chips and corn-fed strip loin

Hoard and Gorge.... sounds like the making of a TLC reality show - how expats make the most of their home leave back in America.  And we should definitely star in the pilot episode.  Notwithstanding the negative connotations of those terms, hoard and gorge ourselves we did - on food, stuff, adventures and in particular, people!

In five weeks, we packed it in like a Metro train at rush hour.  Saw family in three major cities.  Attended a glorious wedding which reunited me with all my best college galpals.  Fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the Grand Canyon.  Explored new (to me and Millie) parts of the U.S. (Utah). Went to a family reunion with ALLLL the cousins (and met some new ones too!).  Cashed in (out?) on some good sales.  Ate delicious cheese, beef, cherries, peaches and ice cream.  Took Millie to her first IMAX movie (my longtime favorite, To Fly) at the National Air & Space Museum. Relived our love for DC by hoofing it around town during an unseasonably cool day while pushing a snoozing Millie in the stroller.  Drove in awe through the Rockies and starred in amazement at the 5 ft snow drifts along Vail Pass at the beginning of June. And felt so blessed by the good fortune of our friendships, our families, our surroundings, our lifestyle and our nationality.

It always ends too quickly, but after five weeks of hopping around America we were ready to take off for Cambodia.  The curiosity and anticipation of what lie ahead in the Far East was growing and growing and we were eager to see what lie ahead for us.  Ironically, I didn't do much research into the history and/or current state of our future home.  We had Foreign Service friends already posted there with young kids who had put Phnom Penh as their top choice, so that was all I really needed to know it was a good family post.  Plus the allure of Southeast Asian cuisine and travel opportunities was enough to keep my panic and anxieties it had in store.  All that was left was one more 24 hour transoceanic flight, and we'd finally be reaching our new home.....

From the month of April until the very first day of July, Millie and I will have had our feet on four different continents in as many months.  We start in Europe, return to Africa, pop over to North America and then eventually land in Asia.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Four Months, Four Continents–Back to Africa

We got back to Arusha with no problems (Millie slept the entire flight home!!! And I foolishly stayed awake the whole time on the overnight flight just so I could enjoy TWO movies in peace). As soon as our suitcases were unpacked, I started preparing to pack them up again (along with 14 boxes) for our departure from Tanzania four weeks later.

Its amazing how quickly a change like moving can sneak up on you. Just as you’re going about your day, buying veggies at the Arusha-version of a farmer’s market, annoyed by the ignoramus drivers on the road and the always-out-of-money ATM, and you get call that says “say good bye to all those nice people you have gotten to know the past two years and essentially the only world your daughter has ever known, you’re going to Cambodia.” You’re 10 parts thrilled, 10 parts sad and 20 parts overwhelmed over what will transpire in the coming weeks. This was the case for me.

I felt more than content with all the remarkable people we’d met in Arusha who’s paths had fortunately intersected with ours. I loved that I was able to climb Mt. Meru after having it stare me down on a daily basis as I went about my business. I felt gratified that what was a leap of faith for our new family turned into such a professionally and personally gratifying experience. I felt triumphant that I had simultaneously stumbled through new motherhood while also navigating life on a new continent. I felt satiated by having seen so many animals in the wild and gorgeous countryside. And lest I forget, it was a blessing beyond words to have so much help at home.

But I can’t deny that at times I found life in Arusha to be annoying and that I longed for one of those Staples "Easy" buttons to push. And during those difficult times, I longed for the simplicity and intuitiveness of America. Why couldn't the store just have the things I needed when I needed them? Why did "maybe next week" really mean, "I have no idea" and that they didn't just say that in the first place?  While hiking in the Grand Canyon (during our recent home leave), Roger asked me ‘what do you love about America so much?’ I told him it boiled down to, when I’m here, I feel powerful.  Everything makes sense, I know my way around, I speak the language and I know the written and unwritten rules.  In Tanzania, it was the opposite.  Naturally, it was unrealistic of me to expect to feel as comfy in Tanzania after two years as I do after thirty odd years in my native America.  But I guess as you get older (esp when toting around a little one), being able to predict  and deftly navigate your surroundings becomes as essential to you as your daily venti latte.

In the midst of a major transition for our family, I feel compelled to wax philosophical about the expat lifestyle and longing for home.  But no matter how I dissected it, I continually reached the same conclusion – no matter where you are, the grass is always greener in other pastures.  I will appreciate all that Arusha had, and that I surely took for granted, once I am sweating buckets in Phnom Penh.  And undoubtedly I will wish for an Easy button while we’re there as well.

Walking safari in Great Rift Valley, with our Colorado friends
Our last month in Arusha was a roller coaster.  We got out to the bush one more time (for Mother’s Day) and we had good times with the good people we’d been fortunate to meet.  We even sent ourselves off in true Tanzanian style with a whole roasted goat at our farewell party (which I think gave many children nightmares)! But there were a lot of difficult goodbye’s and a lot of packing.   I started seeing Arusha in a different and more positive light.  I understood why people relocated there for good, opting to raise their families surrounded by the bush and slower pace of life.

The farewell goat!
Other philosophical sentiments that moving ignites is regret and living simply.  Why is it that in the day-to-day course of straightening up I can look at a heart-shaped coin purse and think “this may come in handy one day, better save it” but then toss it in the giveaway/trash pile the moment we decide to move? How do I get my brain hard wired to critically examine every trinket and tchotchke at the moment of confrontation and either put it to use or make it someone else’s treasure? You’d think a lifestyle based on relocating every two years would have given me some skills in this department, but sadly, no.  Nevertheless, even three hours before the taxi picked us up, I was unloading a suitcase full of STUFF on the staff.

And lest we forget our good pal, regret: Wishing I had made it to Serengeti.  Wishing I’d explored more of our corner of the continent.  Wishing I’d been more adventurous and less nervous.  Wishing I’d mastered Swahili and engaged more in local life.  Of course, it just always felt as though there would be time for those things once I [enter every excuse in the book].  I suppose moving every few years like this should drive home the prescient wisdom of just doing it.

Farewell Arusha (yes, 6 weeks later)! Thank you for welcoming us, being such a wonderful home for our new family and creating so many friendships.  Tutuonana badaye (see each other again)!

From the month of April until the very first day of July, Millie and I will have had our feet on four different continents in as many months.  We start in Europe, return to Africa, pop over to North America and then eventually land in Asia.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Four Months, Four Continents –Europe

DSCN0589Long before we got word that life would next take us to Cambodia, I got an itch to explore beyond the African continent. Roger was gearing up for another round of long days, nights and weekends at work in order to finish the judgment so I figured if we weren’t going to see him, might as well see some new sights. As I romantically described my aspirations to eat my way through Paris to our upstairs neighbor, who is German, she suggested I go for it because she would be in her hometown of Freiburg, Germany for the whole month of April with her 1 year old daughter and had a small (200 sq ft) but comfortable flat I could stay in with Millie. Didn’t take much convincing after that.

DSCN0670In mid-April Millie and I set off for Germany. We stayed for two weeks with a quick 4 day trip in the middle to Paris to satisfy my gastronomic curiosities. Freiburg was a great place to visit with a 2 year old. It reminded me a lot of Boulder, CO, but with cobblestones. Lots of people cycling and walking, sunny, a long pedestrian mall but with the added bonus of soft-pretzels for sale on every corner. Most days started with breakfast at home, an early departure into town center in search of coffee and the days soft-pretzel ration, a few hours at the AWESOME playgrounds and then for a long walk around town with the cobblestones lulling Millie into a sleep long enough for me to steal away into a store or two to enjoy some European spoils. We would meet up with our friend and neighbor, Melanie, for visits into the Black Forest (Freiburg is the gateway into the Black Forest), sampling of schnitzels and hefeweizens and celebrating the schpagel season (white asparagus, served, no joke, with white boiled potatoes). Sleep, repeat.

In the midst of all that excitement in Germany, we hopped a train for Paris where I had reserved another 200 sq ft flat for us in the tony Marais district. We arrived at the height of tourist season as well as the first vestiges of spring so EVERYONE and their mama’s were out on the streets of Paris making lines at the museums too long for a two year old. It didn’t matter to us. The pulse of Paris was happening on the narrow streets and that’s where we were gonna be! Truth be told, it was overwhelming at the beginning. So many cafes! So many shops! So many pastries! So many cheeses! Where do I start?

DSCN0596Armed with my gastronomic hopes and dreams of Paris as well as a toddler, I would have to make very strategic decisions about where we would dine and indulge. If a cup of coffee is going to cost me $7.50 (I wish I was joking), I couldn’t be trial and error’ing my way around the patisseries and cafes. After a $45 lunch consisting of a delicious, buttery steak and bottle of Evian water for me and plain pasta with chopped up hot dog on it for Millie, I regrouped and attacked the food scene from a different angle. That night we did the most Parisian thing of all – we foraged around our neighborhood for meat, cheese, bread, fruit and snacks.

DSCN0660Then we hauled our treasure up the four story walk-up (yes, four stories, every day, sometimes 2x/day, with a 30lb toddler in one arm…. despite the unavoidable stair workout, the buttery croissants won out on my waistline!) Of all places (Paris!), Millie was in a non-eating mood and didn’t help me one bit to polish off our treasure, save for a couple grapes. We dined on the floor, picnic style, since there was no dining table and I went to sleep with a very content belly.

DSCN0541We hit all the major tourist sites – Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, the Louvre – but didn’t enter any of them due to long lines and expensive entrance fees. My favorite way of experiencing any city, like Paris, is just to walk and look at the people, see what their wearing, how they interact, how they go about their days and get a sense of what makes the place tick. Its probably what drove me into such a voyeuristic major in college – anthropology!

Other than helping me store up fat for the Arusha winter we’d be returning to, it was also a good orientation for Millie to the wild and crazy transition she was about to embark on in the next 3 months. She became a pro at sleeping in the stroller, taking various modes of transport and most importantly, sleeping on long plane rides. Europe was only a morsel of what she was about to experience.

From the month of April until the very first day of July, Millie and I will have had our feet on four different continents in as many months.  We start in Europe, return to Africa, pop over to North America and then eventually land in Asia.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Still here, just not there anymore!

You all are used to long drawn-out pauses around here so I will save the excuses.  We left Arusha about 3 weeks ago and have been traipsing across America ever since! We'll be visiting family and friends until June 30th when we embark on a 25 hour journey across the Pacific to our new home in Phnom Penh.  At that point we will have traveled three quarters of the way around the globe from Arusha to America to Phnom Penh!

Since I was in no position to sit down and concentrate on blogging in our last days in Arusha, I took to composing an upcoming series called 'Four Months, Four Continents' as we drove 2000 miles around the American West.  In April, Millie and I took a little trip up to Europe while Roger hunkered down to meet a deadline.  Thus began our journey of hitting four different continents in the course of four months (April - Europe, May - Africa, June - North)America, July - Asia).  So stay tuned for the upcoming series!

Furthermore, you will soon see some changes to the blog as I migrate it to a new home that reflects the changes going on in our life as well as a desire on my part to have a more permanent footing in the blogosphere. 

Photo by Patrick Q, Creative Commons License via Flickr

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Running Amok

The weekend began with Prince William's wedding.  His big day was eclipsed by the birth of Mariah Carey's twins.  Then we moved on from Mariah when some dude in Pakistan was killed.  But now, perhaps you'd like to turn your attention to this piece of breaking news: We are moving to Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

The Temples at Angkor Wat
I realize that for family, emailee's and Facebook friends, this is old news.  But for the handful of followers who I only *know* via this blog, this is for you. After May 25th, it will no longer be Kili Time around here.  Instead, we will be running amok in Cambodia.

After I typed the phrase "running amok" I decided to google it and found out that its origin is actually in SE Asia but is typically used to suggest a murderous rampage.  Hmm, wow.  Not what I was going for exactly.  In my book, "running amok" is a 2 yr old at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon while you're trying to dice some carrots (with a sharp knife) in one hand and also make penguin shapes with Play-Doh in the other hand.  Its the perfect moment of crazy that is only abated with large swigs of Kilimanjaro beer.

Fish Amok
And its in that spirit that I use the phrase as it will characterize our life for the next 2 - 3 months!  But ever more importantly, fish amok is one of the national dishes of Cambodia.  It's a curry that is steamed in a banana leaf cup.  Mmm, seconds please!

It's a very bittersweet time for us right now as we begin the arduous packing process and the even more arduous goodbyes process.  Arusha has been good to us, no doubt.  But likewise, we're excited for this next chapter.  Surely this won't be all I have to say on the matter.  I'll definitely be delving into some waxing nostalgic and maybe even a top ten list or two (note: this may not happen until we're settled in PP as packing will be king around here).  For the time being, just wanted to get the word out in case you start hearing me talk about pad thai and "hotter than Hades" and wonder what happened to all the lions and that big snow-capped mountain.

p.s. like how I used People magazine to report on all the major headlines of the past 72 hours?  Its just how I roll.

Angkor Wat photo courtesy of gumuz on Flickr
Fish Amok photo courtesy of my future watering hole, Cambodia Cooking Class