Lisbon, Portugal

Hot Sauce had training in Lisbon recently, so Apple Sauce and I tagged along. We also met up with some friends from Sarajevo and had a wonderful time. The following is what I wrote for our embassy newsletter. (I left out the fact that I got the stomach flu for a few days, but otherwise we had a wonderful time!)

In preparation for a family trip to Lisbon, I began to thumb through the crisp new pages of my Rick Steve’s Portugal guidebook. I knew next to nothing about Portugal and as I read, I learned a lot, but was underwhelmed. It seemed as if there was not much to do there. I had also envisioned the city to be underdeveloped and difficult to maneuver. I was wrong!

After arriving late one evening in early March, we awoke the next morning to a warm yellow sun and decided to take advantage of it by going to the Jardim Zoologico de Lisboa. We saw many animals, including elephants, reptiles, primates, and koalas. We also caught a live dolphin and sea lion show before eating lunch outside at one of its many restaurants.  The zoo was worth the €19 per person ticket price (under 3 years old, free) and we would be happy to return.

The next few days we acquainted ourselves more with the city itself. Straight away, I was impressed by the ease of getting around. There’s a metro system, buses, and Taxi stands that were parked throughout the city. Of course, we also did a lot of walking, but the 1920s model trolleys are also an option. We took the east-west Trolley #28 and simply enjoyed looking out of its thin paned windows while our son slept.

Trolley

I was also pleasantly surprised by how modern and simply “normal” Lisbon turned out to be. Remember my pre-conceived ideas about the city? One boulevard in particular immediately reminded me of Paris’ Champs Elysees, with its tree-lined sidewalks and upscale shops. A quick look in my guidebook confirmed that Avenida de Liberdade was indeed modeled after Paris’ famous street. One of the most striking parts is its black and white mosaic cobble stone sidewalks.

Mosaic sidewalk

Along this street we took one of the city’s several funiculars up the steep hill to explore the neighborhood above. Lisbon is very hilly and is often compared to San Francisco, so taking the funicular made more sense than wearing ourselves thin by climbing up the steep slope. At the top, we enjoyed the architecture of the buildings. The highlight was the buildings that were covered top to bottom in decorative blue and green tiles.

Tiled building

As we took in the beautiful colors of the buildings we eventually came upon a viewpoint of the city and it was breathtaking. Red roofs topped the pastel-colored structures, hugging each other next to the water.

View

It was the first time I realized that Lisbon had such a different feel to it than any other city I’ve visited. For example, one of my favorite cities is Budapest which is palatial in style and feeling. Lisbon, on the other hand, is more quaint and familial. Even its people are some of the warmest you’ll meet.

On a cloudy day we visited the Ocianario de Lisboa. It houses the world’s largest aquarium which sits in the center of the building. Inside its tall glass cylinder, sharks, sting rays, starfish, and assortments of fish swim in circles. Along the outer walls are the other attractions. Although the aquarium itself was impressive, I’m not sure it was worth €14, but is a good choice for a rainy day.

Finally, we spent a day in Belem, which is a neighborhood a short drive away from the city center and along the Rio Tejo (Tagus River). We ate ice cream as we visited a monument, tower, and a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Monastery of Jeronimos.

Monastery

The monastery was the only site we entered. Our favorite section was the cloisters. It’s an area outside with a very specific ornate style, later termed Manueline, after King Manuel who built the church.

Cloisters

Although we were there for a week, Lisbon could easily be explored over a long weekend. Lisbon proved to be a pleasant surprise and a local explained to me that he believes it to be a hidden gem because of its affordability, friendly people, pleasant weather, and its numerous beaches. I’m inclined to agree!

Re: Sponsorship Idiocy

Several months ago my brother told me that I was the most real person he knows. If I think about it too much, a lump forms in my throat. Hands down, it was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

When I asked him to elaborate, he wrote me the most beautiful of sentiments that brought me to tears. For me, this meant that despite everything I’d been through, both with and without him, he saw me. Like, really, truly saw me.

I think about this all the time, especially when I’m feeling down. His words have helped me as we’ve moved to Algiers by putting things into perspective for me- no matter how bad things may seem now, they glaringly pale in comparison to the things I’ve overcome. The compliments also humbled me, made me speechless, and feel again how strong I am. His words encouraged me, strengthened me, and reminded me that I will survive this post.

The point of all this mushy goop is that I want to tell you all the ways I’m unhappy here. However, I can be honest to a fault and I’m trying to be diplomatic, but it’s hard for someone like me who likes to just lay it all out there. This is why it’s taken me months to write this post.

I also realized that the things I want to tell you are – at the end of the day – just complaints and I’ve done enough complaining since we’ve gotten here. It’s time to focus on the positives: great Mediterranean weather, close proximity and easy travel to Europe, the beautiful white walled city decorated in Moroccan tiles and carved wooden doors, and the budding friendships. After all, my happiness is in direct relationship to my attitude. I can either make the most of my situation or simmer in resentment.

To be honest, it’s really not THAT bad here, but since it is only our second post, it just feels extra hard. During Hot Sauces’ initial FS training I learned that there’s a natural psychological progression when moving overseas. First is a honeymoon phase, followed by a culture shock/homesick/depression stage, and then leveling out in the end. Regardless of the post, it’s normal and likely we will experience a depression stage. Unfortunately, I never had a honeymoon phase here, have since passed the depression stage, and am now in acceptance of my situation.

It’s been helpful knowing about these stages, because it allows me to be kind and patient with myself, hubs, and Apple Sauce. We’re all going through this together, after all. This time around, though, it was my brother’s words that have held me up the most.

I can’t thank you enough, my sweetest dearest brother, for being the rock that I needed. I love you!

Leaving Sarajevo

I’m not ready to leave Sarajevo. I’m not. The mix of emotions I’ve been having is confusing. I feel like I should be more excited to return to the states. Of course, I want to see my family, but I can’t figure out why that is not out-weighing the sad feelings. Maybe it’s because I know I will always see my family again, but I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to Sarajevo.

Mostly, however, I think that my gloominess stems from thinking that Apple Sauce won’t be surrounded by as much love as he is here. I’m not counting family, because obviously they will always have copious amounts of love for him. Love from outside of the family is something I never expected. The way the locals have loved on Apple Sauce has been astounding. No matter where we go someone has to talk to him, make him laugh, or coo and babble with him. The men, just as much as the women, don’t think twice as they kneel down to sing to him, make noises, or tickle his feet. Sometimes even a crowd will form. We’re not surprised anymore when waitstaff take Apple Sauce from his stroller or our arms and carry him to the back to meet their colleagues. I am well aware that he will always have enough love; despite knowing this, I’m still going to miss this about the culture. The love and adoration for children is one of the charming attributes of the people here, and is not something I’ve experienced in America.

I will miss our housekeeper who has been his surrogate grandmother, loving him and caring for him as much as any other blood relative. Just typing this brings tears to my eyes and I have to force the knot down my throat. He has grown to love her as well, and it deeply saddens me that he may not have memories of her when he’s older. Photos and video have been a priority lately to capture the sweet moments between the two, in the hopes to spark Apple Sauce’s memories in the future.

Another gloom inducer is when I think about all of the “firsts” we’ve had here. It’s our first post, first baby, and first time living overseas. Apple Sauce had his first teeth, crawl, walk, fall, and solid meals here. I’m also going to miss all of the friends I made, especially one family with whom we became very close. I will never forget their infinite giving hearts and we are all crossing our fingers that their next post in another year is near us.

I realize Apple Sauce will always be surrounded in love. I know we will have many more “firsts” in Algeria. Apple Sauce will grow to love and be loved by other stand-in grandmothers. Even in this moment of mourning, I know that in the end, everything will be OK.

Traveling, packing out, and a broken Nikon

It’s hard to believe that in a couple of weeks we’ll be leaving what we’ve come to fondly refer to as our “home”. I’ll get back to us leaving in another post, but let me first fill you in on what we’ve we’ve been doing since my last post.

Mostly, we’ve done a lot of traveling. We went to Vienna, Austria; Bled, Slovenia; Budapest, Hungary; a month in the U.S.; Brela, Croatia; and Rome/Tuscany/Venice, Italy. We were very happy to share some of these trips with family who came to visit!

 

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

 

Brela, Croatia

Brela, Croatia

 

Brela, Croatia

Brela, Croatia

Day trip to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Day trip to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

 

I fell even deeper in love with Venice the second time around!

I fell even deeper in love with Venice the second time around!

Our precious baby, whom I’ll call Apple Sauce (thanks, Grandpa C!), grew two teeth, is nearly walking, and continues to amaze and fulfill us more than we could ever imagine.

Precious sleeping baby.

Precious sleeping baby.

Tooshie nap.

Tooshie nap.

Recently, we’ve been organizing, purging, and preparing for our pack-out happening this week. We’ve been attending “Hail & Farewell” parties for those coming and going.

We attended our embassy’s annual 4th of July party. Fireworks aren’t allowed on embassy grounds, but there was plenty of food, many children activities (face painting, a pony ride, magician, bounce house, water games) and live music.

We ticked off some items from our shopping list-buying a traditional eighty-year-old Bosnian wool carpet and a hand-carved table made from walnut.

I also took an online photography class. I was so excited to start practicing things I’d learned while we were in Italy. Sadly, when we got to Venice, my camera decided to break. Bummer!

Finally, I’ve been finding time to write!

Apple of my eye

It all seems so surreal, this life I’m living. When I think about the last 7 years, it’s as if it’s all been a dream. I got a teaching job in an area that I prayed hard for, I married my best friend, and now we are living overseas. And just when I think life can’t get any better, we welcome into this world our most precious gift, our son.  

 

I’m so in love with him it hurts. In the beginning I think I was too exhausted to really feel how much I love him, but as each day passed I fell madly and deeply in love with my baby and now I feel it all over. It’s so overwhelming at times that it’s brought me to tears. When he smiles my gut warms and it spreads throughout my body, like an electric energy that runs down my legs and into my arms. My heart and chest swell when I hear him squeal and coo to the point I could explode. He has specific cries that break my heart, especially the one where he tilts his head back. The way his bottom lip sticks out when he’s really upset does the opposite and makes me giggle. When he’s in another room, I miss him. He is my world and it’s nauseating how much I love him.

 

Just like most proud moms, I want to plaster my boy’s cuteness all over the place; but after much discussion, Hot Sauce and I decided to not share photos or personal information of our baby on this public forum. For now I’ll leave you with a hint of his preciousness. 

 

Onward Assignment

Before I fill in you in on my time here in the US, I will share with you our biggest news. Our next assignment is:

Algiers, Algeria!

Algeria's Flag

*crickets*

I think I’m still in shock, but mostly we are at peace with this post. This will be our last directed tour which means we’ve had to research, rank, and submit our choices from a given Bid List. Whereas our first bid list had about 12 posts, this one had 21. We had to rank 7 as high, 7 as medium, and 7 as low. Hot Sauce also had to write a blurb as to what our reasoning was for how we ranked each post, state his professional goals, and list things that are important to us (like stable medical services for our then-to-be-1YO son). Then, we submitted them to our assigned contact who does her best to give us what we want.

Algiers was #9 on our list, which is low and not even one of our High ranked choices. (Recall that Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) was our first choice, of which we are still so very grateful.)  I could go into all the reasons why we think we were given this post, but just know that there is much research, considerations, family needs, etc. that go into these post selections.

After this assignment the process will go a little differently. In a nutshell, Hot Sauce will have to search for and apply to jobs and posts on his own. We are still unsure about the specifics of how that works, so I’ll obviously save those details for later.

We’ve known for awhile that our bid list was coming out, but because of the timing, we chose to keep it quiet. What with being pregnant and returning to the states, being away from Hot Sauce for a whole month (who finally joined me last weekend!!!), and handling all of this baby stuff, while at the same time having to research and bid on our next assignment, we knew it was a lot on one plate and we just wanted some “quiet” time to concentrate. It’s nice to know that now we can go back to focusing solely on our baby, who is due to arrive on the 21st.

Back to Algiers.

The main NEGATIVE:

It’s a danger post because of that little thing called terrorism.

The POSITIVES:

1. It’s a danger post, which means we get danger pay, plus we get differential pay (which is pay based on the level of hardship-it’s also considered a hardship, just like BiH). In other words, we will be rich for awhile and will only wear clothes made of silk and eat, nay dine, at fine restaurants whilst being doted upon by our personal staff of 25 (while dodging terrorists).

2. The weather rocks.

3. It’s easy to get in and out of the country and we are only 2 hours from several Europe countries (Spain, here we come!).

4. We get 3 R&Rs. (Spain, here we come!)

5. We will learn French.

6. The embassy is small which generally translates to a tight-knit group.

7. The CLO does a lot of outings.

8. Sand-dune skiing.

9. Mediterranean beaches.

10. It’s one of the few danger posts that’s considered Accompanied. Meaning: I can go with Hot Sauce, as opposed to living apart for 2 years. We have said from the start that, if at all possible, we don’t want to be separated. We know Hot Sauce has to do a danger post at some point in his career, so we are happy to get it out of the way now. This doesn’t mean he’ll be exempt from all future danger posts, but hopefully we can at least put it off until our children are much older. Speaking of which, children over 5 years may not go because there are no schools, but it’s nice to know that despite it being a danger post, it’s not so dangerous that children are not allowed at all.

The hardest part about all of this is trying to wrap our brain around a new home, since we see BiH as our home now. At least this time we have an entire year to prepare for Algeria, whereas with BiH, we had only 3 months.

In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy and fall even more in love with Bosnia while we can. And of course, enjoy the first year of being parents! We can hardly wait!

Missing my husband.

My plane leaves early in the morning. Knowing I won’t be home for three months and not with Hot Sauce for two of those months is tearing me up inside. We’re both pretty much in a state of mourning right now. Despite these feelings, we realize it’s one of the many sacrifices we have to take in this Foreign Service life. Fortunately, I will be busy when I return state-side, so that will help keep my mind off of missing my husband. On the bright side, I’m looking forward to shopping (other than the obvious of seeing my family and friends, and having a baby!). It was quite the experience registering for a baby and not being able to touch the soft fabrics or test out the toys. I still have many bigger items to purchase, like the stroller and crib, so those sorts of things will be at the top of my list.

I also forgot to mention previously that I decided to resign from my part-time gig (actually, I realized I never even mentioned that I was working! Ack!), so Friday was my last day of work. It feels strange not knowing when I’ll work again. My original plan was to return to work after maternity leave in September. One weekend, though, Hot Sauce and I realized that our biggest fear as new parents was leaving our child with a Nanny, especially a non-American one. One fear was that if the baby got sick, then the Nanny would give him tea or something that was socially acceptable here in Bosnia, but not acceptable in American terms. We had been told by colleagues that if we did hire a Nanny to make sure he/she spoke English and that he/she had worked with American families before so that he/she was familiar with our customs.

However, we are just going to play it extra safe this first time. Plus, I’m looking forward to being a stay-at-home mom, which is something I thought I’d never say. I always envisioned myself like my own mother who worked a full-time job, traveled frequently, while still making sure we completed our chores, finished homework, and read to us every night. Of course, that was when we were older and independent, so I can see myself working again when our children are also more independent. For now, though, this feels good and “right”.

It’s getting late now and I know I’m just putting off going to sleep because then that means I lose all those hours away from Hot Sauce. I know it sounds so depressing! Love hurts! I’ll also miss this little munchkin, who has recently fallen more in love with this green piece of yarn than any other toy we’ve ever bought her.

Um, the yarn is stuck to your tooth, Noodles!

I will miss her white belly.

My furry baby girl.

Goodnight!

The Bosnian Bun in the Oven Experience

I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t necessarily enjoy the process of being pregnant – I’m tired of peeing all the time, eating, food aversions, the swelling that’s begun in my legs and face, being tired often, being short of breath, accommodating my changing and growing body, sleeping uncomfortably, mood swings, not being able to breathe, having his kicking keep me up in the night. All of these physical things I don’t enjoy, but honestly I’m very grateful to be having such a “drama-free” pregnancy so far. Most days I feel good and I especially enjoy knowing what my body is creating and protecting and this is where my glow comes from. I’m simply overcome with joy and anticipation with meeting our little boy! 

I don’t know how pregnant women are treated in the states, but in Bosnia the locals treat you like royalty. For example, none of them allow me to lift a thing. They make me sit down often and always ask how I’m feeling and how the baby is doing. The local men are already very chivalrous, but now they literally run to the door to open it for me. Cafeteria staff at the embassy is always buying me little treats and saying with a smile, “It’s for Baby.” When I’m having a hot flash at work, the ladies all pitch in with fanning me down. Anywhere I walk, the men will warn me of a rock or a crack in the sidewalk that I might trip over. They also tell me to let them know if they’re walking too fast for me. On our most recent trip (still working on that post!) we took a very short row boat trip and not only did a nun hold out her hand for me when boarding, but on the way back a 20-something also helped me into the boat. Even when we were waiting for a bus, a lady brought me to her seat that she was giving up to me. The love and care the locals show me and the baby is extremely touching.

It’s also a culture that believes they know what’s best for the baby and are always giving me advice of what to do and what not to do. It doesn’t offend me though, because I know they mean well and want us to be healthy and safe. Plus, their delivery is sincere and non-judgmental. In the beginning of my pregnancy I was told to cover my belly properly to make sure the baby is warm. Later, one advised that I shouldn’t be driving anymore, and another informed me of a local tea I should drink.

Although there are times when I just want to do things on my own, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy all the attention! I get it, though. This is life that is forming inside me. I mean, seriously? A being with a soul and everything. Perhaps the locals see it similarly and they teach something like this at a young age. I only wish I had known this before, because I would have treated my friends and sister much differently. I totally would have gone out of my way to do things for them, but I simply didn’t realize the enormity of it all. I don’t judge anyone else for not getting it though, because how could you know especially if you’ve never experienced it before?

I will always remember and cherish my pregnancy experience with the Bosnian people and wouldn’t do it any differently if given the chance. With less than a month left before I head back to the states for a few months, the anticipation of everything “Mom” grows! I can’t wait to be a mommy!

Happy Mother’s Day!

I am multi-lingual… somewhat.

I did it. I ended language classes. Some may call me a “quitter,” (Thanks, hubs!) but it really has to do with being pregnant. The saying that “babies suck the life force out of you” is true. No scientific evidence needed. My brain cells are just not what they used to be and/or they are gone, therefore there are not enough of those buggers to help me learn the language. Some days I believe there aren’t enough brain cells in any of us to master Bosnian. I’m only joking, of course, but with my lack of sleep increasing, I began to struggle in class and I wasn’t studying, so I knew it was time for me to stop. I’m going to miss language classes, but it is a huge relief and I know this is the best decision.

I can remember when I first started and those first weeks afterwards when I was out and about. Locals would say things to me, but I’d just keep on walking. Ten steps later the language would catch up to me and I’d cry out, “Ohhh! I know what he/she said!” > Palm to forehead! < Then I’d kick myself because I totally could’ve answered or replied to whatever it was they were saying. Whereas it may take me a good 20 seconds to figure out what someone has said to me (unless they speak at a snail’s pace and one word at a time), it takes me about 60 seconds to form one flippin’ sentence. Often, I don’t even get to finish because locals try to “help” by finishing them for me. Haha!

Everyone said how difficult the Bosnian language is, but I didn’t believe it at first. Well now I do. It is so complex with many rules and all of the words change in a sentence. And I mean all words; numbers, verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc. Not to mention the seven cases, of which I learned four. As in other languages, like German, the nouns have genders. This means each noun is considered feminine, masculine, or neuter. These nouns also have cases, so they’re constantly changing depending on what part they’re playing in a sentence. Seriously!

The good things about Bosnian are that the sentence structure is similar to English, the alphabet is fairly simple, most words are spelled phonetically, and they use the Latin alphabet (unlike Serbian, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet). If I haven’t mentioned this before, Croatian and Serbian are also spoken here. And guess what? Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian are ALL THE SAME. Yup, you heard right! There may be slight differences here and there, but I can now say that I actually speak three new languages. Cool, huh?

(It really is sad when you think about it, because this is just another example of the cultural divide in this country, but it wasn’t always like that. Before the war, practically no one cared whether or not you were Serb, Croat, or Bosniak. Keep in mind that many locals still don’t care, but the tension is there.)

Despite my inability to understand what people are saying to me right away, somehow I manage to act like I do. One of my good friends said she likes to go out with me because she used to think, “We’ll be okay because T understands the language.” I don’t, though, and now she teases me because of it. I can’t help it. I don’t even know why I do it. Locals will talk to me and when they throw their head back to laugh, I laugh. When they look serious and nod, then I also furrow my brows and nod. If they point, then I nod, say, “Oh, okay,” and point. It’s become a bad habit, but who am I kidding? Most can see right through me! Another thing is that I know how to ask questions, but I rarely understand the answers. For example, if I ask how much something is, they tell me, but since the numbers change and because they’re not speaking slowly, I don’t understand what in tar nations they’re saying. So I just nod and give them a 20. ;)

I absolutely love learning languages, but I don’t think it’s realistic of me to think that I’ll continue classes after the baby is born.  I will keep my six months’ worth of notes, though, and really-won’t I be learning the sweet language of Baby? I can’t wait to decipher all of his little coos and cries. What better language to learn than that, right?