Friday, December 28, 2012

Goodbye 2012

I want to wish everyone a fantastic upcoming year for 2013. I can only hope mine is equally as good as 2012. In looking back, it was a busy year, with many transitions but we managed it all and move into the new year happy and ready for our next adventures.

I feel a bit guilty I haven't written in a long while. But every time I thought about writing, I realized I didn't have anything that interesting to say. Life feels so normal here. It is easy with very few difficulties compared to Ouaga. I don't have the heat and dust to deal with so I am less cranky.  Yes, it gets COLD here and after about 4-5 days of -20F, I am ready for just simply freezing weather, but the snow is beautiful and I am cozy in my house cooking and reading. Also, I didn't do any traveling over the holidays because Otto went back to Portland for the month to visit his dad. I have done some snowboarding and hanging out with friends, but it has been pretty uneventful.

I will get back up to the mountains tomorrow. So far the best place I have boarded is Chimbulak in Almaty - it had good terrain and 2 high speed quads. The places around here have the old style 2 seater chairs (take over twice as long to get to the top of the mountain compared to riding down). The terrain is very tame. I need to find people who want to hike up and look for powder spots. But, there is usually a big group going up every weekend, so the social aspect is really nice. And it costs between $10-16 for a lift ticket, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

My other new favorite thing is this all women's bath house a friend introduced me to. I try to go once a week (although once Otto is back I am sure it won't be so regular). I start off with a 1.5 hour massage that is really good (these Russian women are strong and know what they are doing). This costs $20!!! Then I can get a pedicure/manicure or head straight down to the bath area where there is dry and wet saunas, a huge freezing cold pool, you can get a chocolate-oatmeal scrub, and a tasty meal. Only women in the whole place and it is a nice cultural thing that they take this time to hang out together and take care of themselves. People are very comfortable with their bodies, so it is very relaxed (although the first couple of times it took me a little while to relax!). I have never spend more than $30 for the whole experience.

Here are my photos... I will try to do a better job getting more to share.

compare this with one of my early photos of our house yard area. we get just enough snow here. i have this great gardener who comes twice a week and keeps my compound in perfect order.

Another view of the snow accumulation...and a fire a couple of doors down. This happened last week. The fire dept did show up, but not a lot they could do. it is very dry here and people heat with whatever they can - often coal or wood. this is one of the cases where it feels so developed here on the surface, but some people are living a much more basic life. i talked to my staff about a house fire like this and home owner's insurance. doesn't exist. this family will get no support from the government and will have no recourse or assistance to rebuild or replace all that was lost.

Not my tree, but had to have an X-mas tree in this entry because it was Christmas! this was at the house of my friends where i went for a lovely cozy dinner.

Our table all perfectly set for Christmas dinner. It was a wonderful meal.
Happy Holiday Season to All!!! thanks for reading.

One last note.  I feel a deep appreciation for our folks in the military who are often away from their families during the holidays and working hard for our country. Even if we don't all agree with our government's policies, these people are selfless, uncomplaining, interesting, everyday people. A few of us from the Embassy had a very fun day baking cookies and Christmas treats with a small group from the Transit Center - they were so appreciative to have a day of baking, a holiday ritual for many, as they were all missing their families and were not feeling the holiday spirit. We shared a lot of laughs, were hugging each other by the end of the day...and oh yes, we made some darn yummy cookies which we sent back to the Transit Center to deliver holiday cheer to the soldiers back on base.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Winter is here

...and so is my car - YEA! the Foreign Service has made me realize how dependent I am on my car. I am quite unhappy without one. a month or 6 weeks is fine, but after that it really grates on me. I feel so restricted and i hate depending on other people. Well, this time it has arrived just in time as winter is really here. and here are some photos to prove it.

We found some killer icicles

The Ski areas are just opening up. We went opening day to Zil, which is about an hour outside of  Bishkek. it wasn't terribly thrilling, but the snow is world class...not the heavy stuff we are used to. Otto has really become a great snowboarder. i haven't been on my board for 2.5 years, but it came right back. now i am ready for some challenging runs and back country powder.

there was only one lift and this was the gate. it was pretty high tech...we had a card that we had to swipe to get in.
Base of Zil Ski Resort
Winter Wonderland. walking Jackson (in his fleece vest) at the park near our house. he actually loves the snow and doesn't seem to be as bothered by the cold as we thought he would be.

A little hike on Veteran's day at Ala Archa national park.

It is lovely here. very cold, generally below freezing, although it warmed up a bit the last 2 days, so some of the snow in the city has melted. this is the only thing Ouagadougou was missing.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan

We traveled to Almaty last weekend to pick up Jackson. He had spent the previous 3 weeks in NY in a kennel after there was a problem with his paperwork from Portland to NY when he was originally shipped in early Oct. Otto and I were again so excited to see him, but also anxious...worried that he wouldn't actually make it again. But it worked and he is with us. It was a painful experience getting the dog through customs. first off most flights way out here in Central Asia land in the middle of the Jackson's flight arrived at 2am, so i had to be at the airport (cargo warehouse) at 1:30am. From there it was go here and talk to this person, go there to talk to another, go back to the original went on like this for 4 hours. it was as if they had never cleared a dog through customs. Ugghhh, incredible frustrating. i had to pay someone ($250!!!) to translate, because of course i speak no Russian and the customs folks speak no English and are not the slightest bit motivated to help (unless you slip them a little cash...)

We had a very nice long weekend in Almaty. My regional doctor in the State Dept, who lives there, was kind enough to let us stay with him. His 4 yo was with him and she took to Otto...and Otto was very patient with her. it was very cute - but Otto wouldn't let me snap a photo. And the double bonus, they had a full weekend of things going on and we got to tag along. pictures follow. Almaty is so, so, so developed compared to Bishkek.  and so very expensive. hard to believe they are a 4 hour drive away from each other. Kazakhstan is oil rich which accounts for the difference. It is an equally beautiful city with mountains close enough to touch. The finishing touch to a great weekend was the fact that Otto's birthday was on the Sunday we returned home.

Zenov Orthodox Church at Panfilov Park. This church is in the center of the city in a beautiful park. It was build in 1905 - entirely of wood, including the nails. it is one of the only historic buildings that survived a big earthquake in the early 1900's

Base of Chimbulak ski area. it is about a 20 minute drive from the city center. it was so fun to be at a ski area, Otto and I are excited for the ski season to begin.

Base of Chimbulak. we had a nice lunch here.

Medeu Ice skating rink, on the way to Chimbulak. it is the size of a football field and used regionally for Olympics training.

One of the many huge sky scrapers in Almaty. this has been nicknamed the deathstar by some Foreign service folks that live nearby. it is close to the US Consulate. This takes up about 4 city blocks and it is being added on to. We dont have anything like this in Bishkek.

More lovely scenery. We went to a trout farm one of the days to fish and eat. it was a beautiful setting with this little river running at the back end of the farm.

Otto caught a trout - actually he caught a ton, but after keeping 5, he threw the rest back. it wasn't much of a challenge because this pond is almost overflowing with trout. after you catch as many as you want, the staff cleans/guts them and cooks them. we had a very nice meal. Otto said the trout was tasty.

Back at  home in Bishkek. Otto and Jackson settling in. Jackson has adjusted without problem. he is an amazing traveler. doesn't seem to phase him. he seems quite happy here. we have a nice yard for him to run around in. the weather is still really nice, sunny, warm, so it has been a good transition for him. not quite sure what he will think of snow.

Happy Birthday Otto - 12 this year. How did that happen?!?

We really enjoyed the trip to Almaty. but it made us realize that we are quite happy in Bishkek. This is a nice size city for us. and much more affordable. i am sure we will visit Almaty a number of times during our stay here. it is nice to know we have such a developed city so close. Otto loves Almaty because you can buy REAL lego there.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Birthday Run

I am giddy. no, not because it is my birthday... We got our first snow today, started around 4pm. it was GREAT! it has been over 2.5 years since i have been in the snow. way too long. big, fat, wet flakes.  When i turned 40, i decided that every year on my birthday, the one thing i must do is run. it was extra special today to be able to have my birthday run in while it was snowing. While on my run, i was thinking about my past runs. Since starting in the Foreign Service 3 years ago, i have run in Washington DC, Ouagadougou and now Bishkek. pretty cool.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Inadequate photos

I have been putting off submitting a post because i am trying my hardest to find photos or take photos that show the beauty of the near by mountains. the problem is that when the huge snow covered peaks cover about 120 degrees of the view of the south, it is next to impossible to show you what i see every day. i ride my bike south to work every morning and the mountains and clear blue skies are leading my way. although in the past 2 weeks the weather has changed dramatically - we actually need to wear a jacket in the morning and evening - most days are still sunny and in the 60-70's mid-day. we have had a couple of days of rain in the past 10 days which has dusted the mountains with snow. below are a few photos.

evening view a couple of blocks from my house
A section of the mountains just outside my gate. across and down the street from our house is an outdoor sporting complex. the 'hill' in this picture is actually the back side of a velodrome

one of my running routes. we got rain the night before, so there are still some lingering clouds. the mountains have been even more spectacular with the dusting of snow.

looks like a Hollywood computer generated film back drop. Can't wait to get out into the mountains. 

The Embassy, but just behind it (to the right of the photo) a new one is being build. this one is way too small for the number of people who work here. you can see the faint evidence of the mountains in the back of the photo.

My route to work. if you look closely you can see the shadow of the huge mountains in the distance.
We had a 3 day weekend. very sad, we were supposed to go to Almaty (in Kazakhstan, just north and east of us) to pick up out dog Jackson. Unfortunately we were not able to bring him with us initially and we have been working on getting him over here for the past month. well, there was a problem at the cargo drop in Portland. so, Jackson is hanging out in NY for the next 3 weeks and then we will try to get him again. ugghhh. what a hassle, but we miss him so much and can't wait for him to be a part of our new home. we should pick him up on Otto's birthday - it would be the best present. Otto was so sad when i told him Saturday morning that everything had fallen through.

Otto is on the school soccer team and will be going to Almaty week after next for a tournament. he will go with his teammates and a couple of parents! he is very excited. they will do home stays. it is great for him. he is doing really well.

I spend today walking around the Orto-Say market about a 25 minute walk from my house. i will bring my camera next time. Everything you can imagine is there. the produce is beautiful. the goat heads and cow hooves, i could do without. i spend about 2.5 hours wandering around. Otto and i will go back this weekend because he wants a soccer ball (and it will be a good incentive for him to wander around with me for another couple of hours).

Have i mentioned how easy life is here compared to Ouaga!?!?!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Our first weeks in Bishkek

So far it has been great. We are completely amazed by how developed it is here. the weather/climate is fantastic. lots of flowers and green spaces. we have a really nice park a few blocks away. our house is great. spacious (so please come visit) and close to Otto's school and the Embassy. Otto walks to and from school (takes about 15-20 minutes each way) and i bike to the Embassy - 7 minutes. i actually wish it was longer. and it only takes me 4 minutes to get  home because it is all down hill.

here is our house
It is a 2 story house with a basement. the 'carriage' house is to the right. it has a sauna, huge soaking pool, full bath and an extra room. we have wood floors and stairs (a nice change from the marble in Africa). now all we need is our stuff.
the carport (but no car yet...) and a better view of the carriage house. we have a small yard, but it will be perfect for Jackson.

Otto is adjusting well to school. he had a rough first week thinking that he would never make friends and of course nothing can compare to Ouaga and his friends there. but as soon as he decided to play soccer, it all changed. now he will be going to Almaty (in Kazakhstan, the country to the north) for a soccer tournament in about 6 weeks. he really likes most of his teachers and he is making friends no problem. so far i am encouraged that the academics are a bit better.

our second weekend here we went on a white water rafting trip - Class 2-3. it was great. nice to get out of the city so early in our tour since we don't have our car. there are lots of tour agencies here and lots to do.

Monday, September 3, 2012

a little bit of catch up: Home Leave 2012

I am in Bishkek. but dont have many photos yet (just some of the dirty house i moved into...i took them to document the state of this place so i wont be expected to leave it spotless at the end of my tour as was expected and enforced at the last post). but that is another story.

i wanted to acknowledge my home leave in Portland. i had a great time visiting family and friends. got to catch up with my favorite NP colleagues/friends - that is a highlight for my visit home. Spend some time in Whistler (photos below) and in LA with my long time bud Julie. In Seattle to see my house, my brother and another good friend and his family. i fit a lot in. once again, i could fill this entry with photos of Portland, but you can just do a google search for better photos than i would take. also you can look at my blog entry from last summer...i visited about the same places.

but i did want to share some photos of Whistler, BC. this continues to be one of my favorite places on earth. i am not a resort type person, but Whistler Village is really nice. the huge mountains in the back drop and the great weather help. most people think of it as a winter spot, but i think summer is just as good. lots of hiking and outdoor activities.

Otto in Olympic park. This was such a great space. build for the 2010 Olympics.  We were there during the summer Olympics and they had 2 large screens showing the games throughout the day, so you could sit in the grass being bathed by the sun and watch amazing athletes.

Joffrey Lakes hike. highly recommended. it is a huge glacier in the middle (sorry the pictures can't be made larger). it is about an hour drive out of Whistler past Pemberton. Well worth the effort - actually a pretty easy hike (as long as you are not an 11 year old!!)

Top of Squamish.

I will work on getting photos of Bishkek by next weekend. This is an amazing and beautiful...and very There are coffee shops, grocery stores (many open 24 hours), taxis, shopping malls, great restaurants. This is easy compared to Ouaga. We still miss it though. We haven't even been here 2 weeks and already went on a white water rafting trip this weekend. life is good!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Transitioning: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

I am home in Portland for about a month and then Otto and I head off to our new post. We will be there for 2 years. We are both excited about the change.  with the change in location, i will also change the look for my blog. hope you enjoy the next 2 years with us!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Turn: Goodbye Ouagadougou

Hard to believe i have been here almost 20 months. the time has both dragged and flown. my first 9 months here was very hard, but i can say the last year has been fantastic. full of great friends and exploration of this small, unnoticed country. i will leave with fond memories of Ouagadougou and my first post with the Foreign Service.

It was a very busy last couple of weeks.  Packing out was a pain (stressful, trying to decide what to ship immediately...gear...what can wait), but the packers did a great job. the clinic was also very busy the last 2 weeks. no matter how many times i encouraged people to come see me before the end, of course many waited. i had 3 patient appointments on my last day!!! and i had to turn 2 others away. it is nice to be liked. it was very hard to say good by to my staff in the Health Unit. they graciously let me come in and completely mix up the place (but hopefully for the better). Alphonse, the lab tech, and Helene, the secretary, are the backbone of the place. i could not have excelled without them. i would take them with me in a heartbeat.

i have some photos of my last days. in the end i felt ready to leave, but mostly because it was sad thinking about leaving, and my departure felt drawn out and looming. i had really been missing my close friends that left before me, but had some great evenings out with my other close friends. one really big bummer - i missed my last Sunday bike ride with the gang. i had been so healthy the whole time in Burkina and that weekend i got a severe case of 'Ouaga belly'. i was loving the toilet for 48 hours.

here are some photos of my last days...

Packing up the pantry.
My dining room/living room. After everything was gone it was like camping in a house.
Goodbye picnic for Ronald. He left a few days before me to go to Aruba for a teaching job there. it was a great gathering.
This is the park where i have been running for the past year. it is pretty amazing that it exists in the city and hasn't been deforested or taken over by homeless people. it is fairly well maintained and well used.
I continued running this year through the hot season, telling myself it was cooler in the park (probably not, but it worked to trick myself to keep running outside). After a relatively cool winter of running outside, i just couldn't go back to the gym.
Ronald in the back, then Ernst and Ronald's wife Sarah. Some of my favorite bike buddies!
My staff took me to lunch at Chez Valentin the day before i left. i will miss these guys so much. i was always happy to go to work because we all got along so well and my staff was very competent and ready to do anything i asked. And most importantly, they laughed at my jokes. Helene, Dr. Soli and Alphonse.
Dinner at Gondwana with Ernst, Chad, Karsten, Henneke and Teresa. before dinner, we had a big screen slide presentation by Ernst and Henneke of Bishkek - they took vacation there in the summer of 2008. they loved it there. i hope to have some visitors during my stay.
I had to take this photo because it is strongly associated with my time in the Embassy. this is Helene with her great smile and bright personality. she greeted me every morning as i came to work and was there in the evening to wish me well and to say "A demain." (see you tomorrow). 
It really is the people that make the time at post enjoyable.  It was so hard to leave all of my friends. i hope to see many of them again. the bike group is talking about trying to meet somewhere in Europe or the Mediterranean to do a tour somewhere. We ended up being such a tight group. i hope to find such a great mix of people in Bishkek.

Au Revoir Ouagadougou and Burkina Faso. A la prochaine. Merci beaucoup.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Trip to Paris. Otto says good bye to Ouagadougou

These last few weeks have been bitter sweet. first i spent 4 days in Paris with Otto as he headed out of Ouaga for the last time. he is so sad leaving his friends. this has been a very good couple of years for him. then i got to spend a couple of days extra in Paris on my own. FUN! i love that city. I have been saying goodbye myself to my very good friends here - it has been hard.

Otto at Luxembourg park - beautiful overcast mid 60's day

one of the gardens at Versaille palace. this is completely man made and as always much more impressive in person
Versaille palace
The garden/grounds at Versaille. There are about 20 separate gardens - i spent 7 hours wandering around looking at each one as well as walking to the end of the water way that you can see in the distance. it was a lovely day!