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expat perks

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Chatting About Expatting

Last year right before Christmas I hauled out my pair of headphones and did an interview with the Expat Chat podcast with host Tony Argyle. Tony lives in Australia, making the most difficult part of our interview trying to find a time that worked with our schedules and the eight hours of time difference. As usually happens when people start asking me about living overseas, our conversation drifted to Pakistan and stayed there for awhile: most people are curious about what it was like to live there and surprised when I say how much I enjoyed it. We also covered Botswana, life with kids overseas, my favorite things to eat in Botswana, and the “Big Five” animals you have to see on safari. Also how great my mother-in-law is (and not just because I knew at some point she would listen.)

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Jumpy Castle Watch: Day 23

The Castle still stands. Its continued presence in our lives defies all logic, makes a mockery of prediction, reminds us each and every day with its rainbow-hued mass of the impossibility of full knowledge and the futility of control.  I was sure the delivery man was coming to pick it up today. The reason is simple: today was the first day that I made a plan with the Jumpy Castle in mind. (Please note the capitalization now, out of respect. The Jumpy Castle has become an entity, a fixture: not simply an inflatable vinyl bag shaped like a house but an important, abiding part of our lives.)  Until today I didn’t want to make any assumptions. For each of the 22 days of Jumpy Castle Jackpot that we have enjoyed before this one, I counted no chickens and made no playdates. If neighborhood kids caught a glimpse of bobbing on the other side of our fence and wanted to partake, they were welcome to join the party, chosen children blessed by the bouncy house. The gates were opened for a jumpy house free-for-all while my daughter’s wardrobe was tapped to lend out an assortment of old bathing suits and cotton t-shirts to clothe the masses while they splashed. But I made no arrangements.

Jumpy Castle Watch Day 11

The Castle is Still Here

Jumpy Castle Watch: Day 14. What can you do to spice up the holidays on a hot, quiet December day before Christmas? Rent a jumpy castle: Gaborone’s answer to all your child-related entertainment needs. I suppose the term is actually “jumping castle” (or jumping house) but in the quick casual Motswana way of speaking, what I always hear is “jumpy castle,” so that’s what I’m going with. In America of course we would call it a “bouncy house.” Two days before Christmas I decided to get my daughter and her five friends who are visiting from Zimbabwe a jumpy castle for the day so they could squirt each other with water, play around on the slide, and work out some good sugar-induced energy in the inevitable sweets-laden week before the holiday.

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Sunday Afternoon Observations

Fall has come to Islamabad. You hardy East-Coasters and Midwesterners will scoff, but after spending 18 months in Pakistan including monsoon summers, the low 60’s feel chilly and yesterday I hauled all of my boots and sweaters out of the closet. I met the Swedish Ambassador to Pakistan and she is HOT. How does Sweden do it? A large strip of my lawn has been removed to extend the vegetable garden; there are now 20 different items planted, getting me one step closer to my goal of turning the house into a commune where we can all live off the land. The snow peas are already 5 inches tall after their first week. I made my debut on Friday night in local Islamabad band “Gigistan.” I sang an ’80s classic, “Time After Time” and got a lot of kind comments both on my singing and on my rhinestone-studded True Religion jeans. Sometimes I think the most important thing is looking the part. My vacation to Vietnam starts in two weeks. I still need a visa, but luckily I can see the Vietnam Embassy from the terrace of my house, and will be popping over there tomorrow. I am most looking forward to the food and have heard that Saigon is a foodie paradise. I love the green smoothies from my detox so much I am continuing to have one every morning for breakfast. I am also, however, eating pizza on the weekends. Here’s to everything in moderation! […] Read More

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Red Carrots and Other Small Pleasures

It’s felt a little different for me to be in Pakistan lately. This is probably due to the looming specter of my unemployment starting on October 17. It turns out it is slightly more anxiety-producing to be here in the land of the foreign and the unfamiliar without the reassuring comforts of company-sponsored security detail, visa sponsorship, and danger pay. This is the case even though I will be working as a short-term consultant and things are not as grim as this paragraph makes them sound. Short version: despite my griping, it’s not time to worry about me yet. In the meantime I am taking the opportunity to do all of those things in Islamabad that I could never do when I was working 12-hour days. This week that included: Sleeping in. Getting 8 pairs of pants hemmed. Trying a new restaurant other than Nirvana. And most importantly, attempting the grand experiment of cooking for myself. There are all sorts of obstacles to cooking my own meals here, even though cooking is one of my favorite things to do. First there were the rumors of bacteria run amok on everything raw–various sources made me fear for my life were I to get crazy and do something like, say, eat lettuce. I have decided these fears are overblown. Then of course there was the issue of living in a guesthouse for three months. During that period any personal “cooking” was relegated to burning popcorn in the conference room microwave or spraying fresh cherries with a hydrogen peroxide solution before gingerly eating them one by one (see above, dire fears re: bacteria). After getting my own place, […] Read More

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Last Night, in a Hospital in Pakistan

Turns out my “I’m feeling better!” celebrations from the last post were a little premature. I thought I was basically cured, but as we know by now Pakistan is full of surprises. Instead of that 100% recovery I was expecting, I had a little relapse. It turns out that having a stomach bug for six straight days is the best way to become dangerously dehydrated and get people really concerned. This is how I found myself at one o’clock in the morning last night being hurtled toward the emergency room of Shifa Hospital in downtown Islamabad with an entourage of four: my driver, my boss, my colleague (and acting translator), and our security chief. Overkill? Maybe. But it was really nice of all of them to come to the ER with me. And know we all know how to get there for next time! So, What is the Emergency Room Like in Pakistan? Pretty much like in America, except that it is way better. This particular ER had the huge plus of no waiting. I was ushered right in immediately to my little curtained-off bed and saw the doctor within 3 minutes. When I went to Boston Medical Center in 2001 with what turned out to not be appendicitis, I waited for six hours in the ER with no water or pain meds before anything happened to me, unless you count being poked by med students on their first day of school “anything.” Granted, BMC is in Dorchester, and it is hard to pay much attention to the girl with the tummyache when all the gunshot victims are being wheeled by on gurneys. Advantage: Pakistan. What’s the […] Read More

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What you Give Up…What you Get

So I have put myself in a pickle. Let me explain. While trying to decide whether to move to Pakistan, I made a list of all the little things I would have to give up if I came, just to make sure I was ready to make the jump. You’ve heard about them all many times already: pork products, vodka & soda, lettuce, cheeseburgers, driving, skirts, showing your bum in public, a totally Taliban-free life, etc. I thought it over carefully and decided it was worth giving up all these things for a great job and a new, exciting experience. Then I got here. I discovered, first of all, that not everything on my “banned” list was truly banned, thanks to three little miracles called the French Club, the embassy commissary, and bootleggers. Turns out champagne, bacon, and even provocative clothes are not a part of my distant past (you can wear all manner of sexy outfits to the monthly French Club dance party if that is what you are into). Then another thing happened. I realized all the things you can get in Pakistan that you can’t get back at home. This includes: people to drive you around, iron your clothes, plant a vegetable garden and exotic varieties of fruit trees in your yard, help you cook, give you a spa pedicure for $10, sell you beautiful handmade jewelry, patrol your house with large guns 24 hours a day, and carve all your salad vegetables into intricate little designs, all at very reasonable cost. (Is the ability to live like royalty all the time due to a country’s cheap labor conditions problematic? I’m sure it is. […] Read More

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First Impressions

So many new experiences, so little time to report them. I’ll do my best with a few bullet points for now. After four days in Pakistan, this is what I’ve learned: I wanted a challenging, exciting job that would stretch and engage me intellectually, and I got it. I also got ten-hour workdays. (When am I going to have time to blog?) For some reason I am totally okay with these hours right now. It is a myth that there is no salad in Pakistan! True, there’s no lettuce, but what else can we call that little pile of artfully carved and zigzagged carrots and cucumbers dressed in oil and vinegar that comes with every meal? I am ecstatic to see my old friend – vegetables. Coffee = Nescafe. When’s the last time you poured a heaping teaspoonful of flavor crystals into hot water to get your caffeine fix…like 1980? Welcome to the time machine. I can pull any wrinkled item of clothing out of my overstuffed suitcase and get it ironed, just about any time of the day, for 40 rupees (about .50 cents). It is always men who do the ironing. This is not what I expected. My new favorite thing to do at four o’clock is to have tea and homemade macaroons. I don’t like having a driver on call as much as I thought I would. I miss driving, and I’m itching to try out one of those tiny little cars on the wrong side of the road. The US Embassy in Islamabad reminds me of Disneyland. Equal parts Jungle Cruise ride and those flower beds in the shape of Mickey […] Read More

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I always loved that song by The Clash. It’s so peppy and full of fun little rhymes: If I go there will be trouble And if I stay it will be double …etc. I’m stealing from the Clash’s eloquence to refer to a decision I have to make in the next two weeks. Volunteering for the Obama campaign the month before the election confirmed my long-term interest in the political process and made me want to finally stop stalling and get involved. I decided once and for all to pursue a career in politics, specifically in strategic communications: something I like and am good at. I put out feelers in Washington DC and started to get in touch with all my old contacts there about a possible job on the Hill or in the Administration. I’ve already rustled up a few good leads and a lot of great advice from people who know the city and the system. But my job hunt there is in its earliest stages. In the meantime, I got an offer. It’s for a fantastic job–strategic communications for a USAID consultant, exactly the kind of work I want to do, with a great team of people, working towards powerful initiatives, in a challenging, stimulating environment. In Pakistan. Yeah, the job’s in Islamabad. Is this a huge plus or a huge minus? Depends on who you ask. On one hand there’s being apart from everyone I love for a year. On the other hand, there’s being involved in interesting work that makes a difference in people’s lives. On one hand, there’s leaving most of my favorite clothes behind so I can shroud […] Read More