Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tsunami Recovery, CRS Featured on Morning Edition, NPR

NPR: Two Years On, Tsunami Recovery Lags Promises

Morning Edition, December 26, 2006 .

The Asian tsunami of 2004 killed more than 170,000 people in the Indonesian province of Aceh alone, washing awaytens of thousands of homes, schools and businesses. Two years later, reconstruction is underway, but the recovery effort is not as far along as many had hoped it would be.The provincial capital Banda Aceh is booming with new stores, restaurants and hotels. There's something else new -- and not at all welcome -- in this once-sleepy city: traffic jams. All of it seemed unimaginable just two years ago, says Paul Dillon, who is with the International Organization for Migration.

"I arrived two days after the tsunami and have been here ever since," Dillon says. "And I'm constantly amazed to see the extent to which reconstruction occurred. That said, there remain major challenges when it comes to housing and infrastructure, and those are going to persist for years to come."

Families Crammed into Small Barracks

A gaggle of children greet a visitor in the muddy courtyard outside their temporary home in the town of llokgna, several miles up the coast from theprovincial capital. It took just a few minutes for the tsunami to leave a half-million homeless in Aceh.

Two years on, some 70,000 are still living intemporary wooden barracks like this one. Entire families -- sometimes more-- live in a single 10-by-20 room. Marzuki, 28, is a fisherman and widower who shares his room in the barracks with two other families. He wants to get on with his life and start a new family to replace the one he lost, he says. But he can't -- not while he has to live in such cramped conditions.

"They tell me I have to be patient," Marzuki says. "But they won't tell me when I'll get help to rebuild. It might be a few months, it might be longer. They just tell me I have to wait."

The United Nations recovery coordinator for Aceh, Eric Morris, hears Marzuki's frustration. He says things should be better.

"I would say a B+ for effort, and something less in terms of actual accomplishments for stated targets," Morris says of reconstruction efforts.

Early Promises Proved Hard to Keep

No one disputes that the initial response to the tsunami was extraordinary,and extraordinarily successful. The reconstruction phase has been less so --in part, Morris says, because of promises made early on that proved impossible to keep.

"Many of the targets -- particularly with respect to permanent new housesfor tsunami survivors --most of those targets were probably unrealistic,"Morris says. He says there was an insufficient awareness of obstacles in terms of procurement, construction supplies, logistical constraints and other issues that have prevented early expectations from being fully met. Competition between aid agencies has sometimes gotten in the way of cooperation, Morris says, as non-governmental organizations rush to build houses with money generously donated by governments and ordinary people from around the world.

"There are different ways of going about rebuilding these settlements and these communities, some of them very effective and some of them less so," says the International Organization for Migration's Paul Dillon. "And as aresult, what you have is a mishmash of different qualities and styles of construction, and that can be very problematic."

The town of Peuken Bada offers a good glimpse into the progress and problems so far. Only a handful of buildings were left standing after the tsunami. More than half of the town's population was swept away -- 10,000 people gone in an instant. Pueken Bada is on the mend. Construction crews are busy rebuilding hundreds of homes, which have sprouted like mushrooms among the marsh grass and tidalpools near the shore. Some, built early on by a south African charity that'ssince left, are so small and poorly built that they sit empty, with residents refusing to move in. Others are bigger and better.

Waiting to Start a New Life

One of the people we've been following over the past two years is Mursalin. He is the proud owner of a new house. It sits just a few feet away from the crude, one-room shack he built last year on the foundation of his old house,which was swept away -- along with his family -- when the tsunami hit. Mursalin gives a tour of his nearly completed home, one of 200 built in Peuken Bada by Catholic Relief Services. It has two bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom -- more than enough space for Mursalin, his new wife andtheir 8-month-old son.

"We were supposed to move in a few months ago," Mursalin says, "but now they tell us there's a problem with the contractor."

Mursalin says he hopes they'll be able to move sometime in January. But Catholic Relief Services Aceh Director Scott Campbell says that's not going to happen.

"We're having certain issues with the contractors based on the houses they're building," Campbell says. "CRS [Catholic Relief Services] is committed to making sure that the houses we build are structurally sound. And when those quality standards aren't met, we have to take certain actions to ensure that contractors in the field are building to a certain standard."

Campbell says it could take five or six months more to retrofit the houses in question. Mursalin is disappointed but still grateful. When it is finished, he says, it'll be a good house -- better than many here. He just wishes it would happen sooner.

A New Home Worth the Wait

A few hundred yards away, another house is nearly completed. This one will be home to Samiruddin, his wife Rohani and their two children. We've been following this family since the tsunami first hit. When their house was washed away two years ago, the family fled to the home of Rohani's mother, several miles further inland. Samiruddin is nearly done building their new home, with materials and some labor provided by Uplink, a German NGO. It has taken a while, Samiruddin says, but the wait has been worth it.

"Our old house was a little bigger, but this one is stronger," he says."It's all concrete. And the walls are much thicker than our old house, or even those new houses that CRS is building over there. So I'm pretty happy with the way things are going."

His trucking business is going well, too; Samiruddin says he has more work than he can handle. Samiruddin's 11-year-old son, Yusran, is also eager tomove back.

"This is where I used to live," he says, "so I'm happy to be coming back. I'll be able to walk to school and play more with my friends who've also come back."

Yusran says he's no longer afraid of the water, as he was immediately afterthe tsunami. His mother, Rohani, is. She's been reluctant to move back from the beginning, and is no less reluctant now.

"I'm still afraid," she says, "but not really. I'm afraid in my heart that the water will come again. I know my husband and my children want to move back. But if it were up to me, we'd just stay with my mother."

But many survivors don't have a choice. They will continue living with relatives or in barracks for some time to come. Initial estimates put recovery time for the battered province at three to five years. Officials now say it may take a decade -- and even that depends, to a large extent, on whether a post-tsunami peace agreement between Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian government continues to hold. Most Acehnese hope it does. Between that decades-long conflict and the tsunami, they reckon they've suffered enough.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas is Coming and the Chicken Turkey's Getting Fat!

Tomorrow is Christmas! Even our little corner of this island is starting to feel festive. We found a ‘tree’ at a nursery and that helped the spirit quite a bit. Then we found ‘chasing lights’ to put on the tree. Basically, your every day Christmas tree lights, but the package says ‘chasing’ instead of ‘Christmas’ here in Sharia land.

We made a couple of ornaments out of homemade salt clay. It’s so humid we had to leave them out to dry for days. After awhile you forget about them. By the time we remembered they were on the floor on top of a piece of cardboard, there were only a few left, thanks to Sabrina and the dog sampling them. So, whatever the dog and Sabrina didn’t eat we put on the tree.

I made a garland with some fuzzy white yarn left over from my never finished scarf I was attempting during Jared’s football practices, and some sequins. We cut out snowflakes and made an angel out of a toilet paper roll. Very high brow!

Then on to the kitchen. Christmas to me has always meant baking and cooking, but here with my Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven and a house full of boys, I’ve realized I have to adjust my wants to meet my reality. In this household a few batches of homemade red and green playdough and some red and green frosting covered cupcakes fit the bill quite nicely.

I did have high hopes. I scoured the Internet and found a fudge recipe not requiring marshmallows (very hard to find and when you do they will put you back about $8 US a bag.) that turned out quite nicely. I did the cooked eggnog so as not to show up at tonight’s holiday party with a “Merry Christmas, would you like some rum with your Avian Flu punch?”

Rob thinks the eggnog is much better with the rum than without as it cuts the flavor of the UHT milk. I think rum makes pretty much everything taste better.

Tonight’s Christmas Eve party is all about not eating rice and rendang, but recreating the best we can the foods we are familiar with. I am in charge of the traditional if not kitschy green bean casserole. My friend who is hosting the party called me up excitedly to tell me a package from her sister in law just arrived and is complete with the Durkee French Fried Onions. Now that is the sign of a good Christmas.

Next is my traditional fruit salad inherited from my mother. She discovered it while living in Alaska when I was a baby. It has everything in it a grown up person isn’t supposed to eat; marshmallows, cream cheese, canned fruit. The story I got from her is it was so hard to find fruit in Alaska way back in the late ‘60’s they relied on the canned variety and spiced it up a bit. My thought is, if the cans of fruit cocktail needed ‘spicing up’ by being smothered with cream cheese and marshmallows, I question the intelligence of eating them in the first place. At any rate, now I’m addicted and I too must have the fruit salad.

I’ve replaced the walnuts with cashews, since there aren’t any walnut trees anywhere on the island. I couldn’t find the canned pineapple, but I did find a can of tropical fruit and picked out all the weird gelatinous white fruits so they wouldn’t mar my memory of the coveted fruit salad. Canned papaya? Fine. Canned chewy fruit de cacao? Nope.

I tried to make marshmallows. Twice. All I can say is it’s impossible with a cooktop that goes from hot to hotter, no electric mixer and no candy thermometer. My second attempt looked promising; the sugar water/gelatin concoction was starting to turn white and grow. But just as my shoulder was starting to burn from the frenzied fork whipping and I excitedly called Jared into the kitchen, the froth of sticky whiteness collapsed in a heap of escaped steam and I was left with sugary sand stuck to the bottom of the pot.

I don’t know what kind of chemical reaction happened in my kitchen, as I am an Arts major, but I won’t be attempting that again any time soon.

So, yes in the spirit of the holidays, I sucked it up, bought the $8 US bag of marshmallows and admitted I am no Martha Stewart.

The cupcakes took five hours since I could only cook about eight at a time in the Easy Bake.

It is kind of funny how much food matters, especially living in stressful environments. I’ve done this all before; boiled down enormous squash to make ‘pumpkin’ pie; snuck ham underneath my underwear in luggage destined for other Muslim countries; traveled three hours by hot van just to find spegettios for my children. I’ve thought nothing of going over the weight limit on the airplane if it meant bringing back a few extra jars of peanut butter. I’ve been known to pay $15 US for pop tarts.

That, I must say, is the true test of honesty in a relationship. Do you confess to your spouse that you were idiotic enough to pay that much for some lousy pop tarts? You’ve got to really love somebody if you allow them to eat a pop tart when they are $3 US a piece.

Our language instructor asked what we were eating for Christmas. I told him turkey, which translates to ‘kalkun’ in Indonesian. Here they call them ‘ayam kalkun’ which means ‘chicken turkey.’

This discussion of course digressed into the various types of chickens you have here on the island. You have the ‘ayam pudong’, which is the big, white chicken. (Know as the KFC chicken, or as I joked, the bule ‘foreigner’ chicken).

Then you’ve got the ‘ayam kampung’ – the ‘roaming chicken’ which here could be called the ‘garbage eating chicken’ but in more polite societies we’ll call it the ‘free range chicken.’

Then of course, you have your ‘ayam kampus’ or ‘wandering chicken’ which translates to the loose woman of the village.

At any rate, we’re happy to have found not only a chicken turkey, but a friend who does not have an Easy Bake oven. It is, after all, the simple things in life that make you happy. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Monday, December 18, 2006

Merry Christmas!!!
From the Richardsons
Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia
December 2006
This was so darned funny, I had to steal it from my Canadian friends, the Virginillos. Thanks Brenda! Of course, with a bit of a more American bent : )

For our liberal friends

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that the United States is necessarily greater than any other country. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee(s).

By accepting these greetings, you are accepting the aforementioned terms as stated. This greeting is not subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher(s) to actually implement any of the wishes for herself/himself/others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher(s). This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher(s).

For our conservative friends:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Belum, Tidok bericara bahasa Indonesia

Belum, tidok bericara bahasa Indonesia (No, I don’t yet speak Indonesian)

Jared, Rob and I have been taking language classes for the last few weeks. While I do feel like I am improving a bit, I need to accelerate the process. The worst part of the whole enlightenment of finding out what Indonesian words really mean is realizing how ‘Tarzan and Jane’ I’ve been speaking.

The second worst part is realizing that I’m getting old and it is starting to affect me. Case in point; I made flash cards for us in order to study. Rob and I were ‘flashing’ each other so to speak when Jared walked in the room. We made him join in on the game. The first round he didn’t know a single word. The SECOND round, he knew every one by rote. So unfair. Rob and I must have been 15 minutes into flashing each other 20 different words and we still got at least two or three wrong every time.

It would also take several seconds to figure out what the word meant. I have a terrible memory. Where Rob can remember his phone number from when he was seven years old, I’ve already forgotten my work extension back in the home office.

I also have to make weird, murky connections in order to remember any words. For example, in order to remember the word ‘to cook’ – ‘memasok’, I need to think of Michael Jackson, then I need to think of the song that has the refrain ‘mama-say-mama-so-mama-ku-sa’ stuff in it, then I remember the Indonesian word sounds kind of like that, then I mouth the Michael Jackson song until I remember the right word is memasok, not memakusa. By the time I say it, the person I’m trying to converse with has usually moved on to someone else who doesn’t act like they have some sort of mental problem.

Up there in my worst things about learning a foreign language top ten list is having several half learned languages (sometimes I think English is part of that pack) bouncing around in my brain; Arabic, French and now Indonesian. This has gotten me into trouble recently.

For some reason, as I was looking at a container of yummy UHT milk (ha!) I saw the word ‘bebec’ and assumed that word was for milk. In my mind it was the closest sounding word to the other ‘milk’ words I know, like ‘leche’, since it has that hard ‘k’ sound in it. Never did I think it was actually ‘susu’, which to me sounds like ‘sugar’.

We run out of milk one morning. I don’t have access to a car and I don’t feel like flagging down a bechek (sidecar taxi) to go to the closest semblance of a grocery store. Instead, I hoof it to the nearest little ‘toko’ (store) which in my neighborhood usually is made out of plywood and serrated tin roof. There is usually a light bulb in the shack and a dirt floor. There is nothing but the essentials; bags (yes bags!) of oil, cleaning liquids and water; bags closed with rubber bands (yes, bags with rubber bands!) of flour and sugar, two full isles of cookies and sugar crackers and big plastic jars of candies. I looked around for milk. No milk. So, I asked the store owner, “Anda mapunya bebec?” I think I’m asking for milk. He says no. I insist that he perhaps he does have ‘bebec’ and he has forgotten. He consults with a young guy, probably his son who brings me some margarine. “Tidok,” I explain. (“no”). “Saya mau bebec.” Again I think I’m asking for milk. I try and make it clearer. “Anda tahu, bebec, bebec chocolat,..” I think I’m telling him “You know, milk, chocolate milk,..” Finally I locate a little carton (in the shape of a bag!) of milk in his fridge and shake it in front of him. “Bebec!” He just laughs and takes my money.

It isn’t until my next language lesson that I find out I was actually asking him for a duck. You know, a duck, a chocolate duck,...I find this out in the middle of the lesson when I interrupt what our great teacher Benny is trying to teach us (“Oh yeah! And what is the word for,...”) I have Benny laughing so hard he is crying. He can not believe he is trying to teach bahasa Indonesia to some American woman who goes to a store and asks about purchasing chocolate ducks.

Benny takes a deep breath to gain control. He closes his book, clasps his hands and looks at me. “Now, Ibu Karen, what other words do you need to know?”

Friday, November 10, 2006



Wow, I actually exceeded the word limit of my blogger, so for those of you in the dark, the last two letters in the previous post were 'en.'

He looks too relaxed, eh? And this is day 1 of the Perth Park Tour 2006!

Yes, Sabrina actually has enough hair that she gets 'bed head' like everybody else!

Just another crazy family ,... livin' the dream!

Here is Sabrina's snorky face - I keep telling her it's going to be hard enough to get a date with some hot highschool hunk with three older brothers and she should really not do the snorky-scrunch the nose up-and-smile thing, but she won't listen to me,... Or else she's practicing to replace Jack White's sister in the White Stripes band,.. maybe we should be listening to more Nursery Rhymes on the car radio,...

Okay, say it with me, "Wow! That's one fat Wombat!"

Apa Kabar? FAQ Number 2

Egads. I am way behind in my journaling, so I’ll just get you all up to date quickly and in random order, much like I live my1ife.


We have finally put the kabosh on the ‘endless summer.’ The school supplies made it out of Indonesian customs and I am in the midst of cramming 200 pounds of academics into the brains of Zach and Jared. We have completed day four. Yes, it is now November and we have only now been able to start school.

To complete the illusion that I do actually take the education of my children seriously, I am having playground equipment installed into the backyard. This required hauling one of the drivers to the steel shop to translate. Thankfully the shop had an order book and I could point at what I wanted; a steel merry-go-round, a rope climb and monkey bars. So far we have two of the pieces in the backyard. Now to find someone who has cement so we can ensure no small child is crushed while playing on the equipment,...

Otherwise the boys have been playing soccer with the guards and have taught a few of them baseball. Unfortunately, our front yard isn’t too big and the boys keep hitting the ball over our cement wall into the neighbor’s yard. Our neighbors are very nice; the dad is a becheck (motorcycle taxi) driver and they have four small children, so they don’t mind the balls coming into the yard. The problem is they have a flock of ducks and a duck poop swamp in their yard (at least during rainy season). The last time we ran over to get the ball we watched it float on the surface of the poopy water and then,.. sink. You can’t find baseballs in Banda Aceh very easily! We are now down to two. Needless to say, we are being very careful with these last ones!


I now realize how American the Halloween holiday really is. No one else celebrates it. I scoured Autralian Kmart and grocery stores, and nary a chocolate eyeball, candy corn or orange and black M&M did I find.

Of course, this didn’t stop us from bringing the tradition to Indonesia in our crafty way. As usual, I didn’t pay any mind to the fact the lady selling me fruits and vegetables in the market thought I was absolutely crazy for buying seven pumpkins. I needed them for the party my friend agreed to throw for any and all expats with children who might like to celebrate Halloween.

There really is nowhere to buy Halloween costumes, obviously, so the boys were left to their own devices. Jared and Zach put on a huge football jersey and became a two headed monster. Kyle put on the dress up plastic knight armour and rode on Sabrina’s toy Zebra. Rob and I put on snorkels, masks and swim suits. Sabrina wore a pretty batik outfit Rob had bought for her before we moved to the country.

Since we don’t have a vehicle, we instructed the guard to flag down two bechecks to carry all of us, seven pumpkins, Halloween candy and the necessary camera equipment to the party. We were quite the sight!

The party was a success – my friend made home made pizzas, then the kids bobbed for apples (Kyle immersed his entire upper torso into the water bucket) and made ‘ghost’ shakes by painting scary faces on the inside of a glass with melted chocolate then filling the glasses with vanilla ice cream. Then the adults had ‘grown up shakes’ complete with fresh pineapple and contraband rum.

Each family got to carve a pumpkin, even though the Tajikistani family couldn’t really comprehend the significance. Rob, being the engineer, had the boys draw out their faces and then took loooooooots of time making sure the carving was an exact replica of the plan. Then, he got quite miffed when someone stole the top of his pumpkin and cut it to fit their own. Foreigners just don’t understand the horror of pumpkin top abduction.

Finally, we set up ‘trick or treat’ stations at all the doors leading to the outside of the house and attempted to explain the whole ‘trick or treat’ concept to people from Tajikistan, Pakistan, France, Indonesia, Australia and Japan.

For the actual Halloween night, we celebrated by having a scary dinner complete with ‘worms for brains’ (spaghetti inside an orange pepper carved to look like a jack o lantern) and chocolate cup cakes with gummy rats on top. The boys wrote scary stories during ‘school’ and read them by candle light after dinner. Maybe not the ‘bring a pillow case to heft all your candy back to the house’ trick or treating they’ve been accustomed to in California, but they had a good time!

Zach Turns 7!

We survived our first kid birthday party here in Banda. I am not a fan of kid’s parties. If I have my druthers, I’d prefer to buy the kid off through the copious purchasing of massive amounts of birthday toys. However, since deep down inside I know this is the wrong way to go about it, and the kids need to have face time with other kids, I orchestrated a birthday party for Zach.

Zach turned seven on November 5, so to celebrate we threw him a party. Can you believe we actually scrounged up eight other expat boys to invite to the party? We had them all come over to the house first and planned to drive everyone to the party venues.

We reserved a car from CRS the night before. What do they send over? Not the van we’d asked for, but a pick up truck. I met the driver in the street and instructed him to go and switch cars. Unfortunately, none of the vans had gas, so I gave him the equivalent of five bucks and had him go fill ‘er up.

Finally, with a van at the ready, we and one of the unsuspecting dads drove eleven excited boys to the local supermarket, ‘Pante Pirak’ where there is a ‘Funland’ in the basement. It’s a little busy on the weekends, so between Rob, myself and one of the other dad, we had our work cut out for us keeping a head count during the hour we were there.

Of course, upon arrival we realize we don’t have enough money to keep the kids going for a whole hour, so Rob is dispatched to the ATM. The moment he leaves, a mother’s worst nightmare happens; the power goes out! Total darkness and I’ve got eleven little boys spread all over Funland. All these parents trusted me not to loose their children and now this happens,.. Thankfully the power comes back on after a few seconds and after a quick head count I find I still have eleven little boys.

An Indonesian man sees our little group as I’m yelling instructions at the bouncing boys. He asks the dad who accompanied us if these were all his children and he tells him ‘yes!’ The Indonesian man winks at him and gives him a thumbs up.

After an hour of sensory overload and feeling like some sort of mafia don as I dole coins out of a bag to all these little boys, we drive to Pizza House and have lunch. The boys eat their body weight in pizza, sing happy birthday and eat the chocolate cake that has taken me three days to cook in my Indonesian version of a ‘Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven.’

I found powdered sugar and made actual frosting, but then I decided to get fancy and color it green with some local food coloring I found. Unfortunately, the food coloring is also flavored. The green color happens to be melon flavored. Not too bad, but not the taste your American tastebuds are expecting. Half the kids like it and the other half don’t. At least the actual cake turned out okay and was edible. (not a small feat for me!)

Zach had his best birthday ever, as one boy brought him a couple of turtles and another brought him a BB gun. So, for a little boy who was crying in his bed a few weeks previously because there “aren’t any toys in Banda Aceh” and he “doesn’t have any friends,” the day turned out pretty darned good!

Now We're Cookin' with Gas!

Well, I have come to terms with my cooking arrangement. It basically consists of a two burner cooktop hooked up to an ominous looking bottle of gas and a small toaster oven affectionately known as the ‘Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven.”

I have no cookbooks. I have no Internet connection, so I can’t readily go to a Web site and grab whatever recipe I’d like. I am able to run over to my Tejekistani friend’s house and puruse her recipe books.

I have no measuring devices either. In lieu of a measuring cup I use a baby bottle. Instead of real table- and tea- spoons I use whatever spoon I have on hand. Or, I use my favorite kind of measuring; guessing!

The only bakeware I can find that will fit inside the BCEBO are square shaped rickety metal pans. They do sell nice glass bakeware, but it won’t fit in my oven. It’s too long. This means the only breadpan I can fit in there is a mini loaf pan. Do you know how long it would take to bake a bread recipe using only one mini loaf pan? A long time.

Otherwise, I can bake square bread.

I did make bread the other day, and it was not too bad. Unfortunately it was a rather large recipe, requiring 13 cups of flour. (It’s the only recipe I had at the time, AND it had the double bonus of requiring squash. Since I had a few extra pumpkins left over from our Halloween escapades, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it!)

I had to send my nanny/’real cook of the family’ out several times to procure plastic rubber-banded shut bags of flour before I had enough. I’d measure out the flour in my baby bottle, fish in my purse for another few thousand Rupia and send her back out to the local wood-shed-with-serrated-metal-rooftop that constitutes a store. She’d look at me in wonder and say “Tapung lagi?!?” (More flour?!?)

I found a very large metal bowl where I put all this bread dough, draped it with an old hand towel that has now become a kitchen towel since I can’t figure out which little store sells towels here in this city, and left it to rise. I came back to check on it after hearing the dog growling and barking in the kitchen. I found the dog growling and barking at my rising bread. Now, if that’s not a sure sign that I don’t bake enough, I don’t know what is.

At any rate, I baked my squash bread and it was fine.

I have since made friends with a German man who has built his own stone oven and sells bread and pretzels. Much easier to send him a little text message in the morning and have fresh, warm bread hand delivered to my door. I’ve been on a pretzel and whole wheat roll binge for the past few days. Needless to say, I’m finding it difficult to live in a country that doesn’t believe in bread and cheese.

I am doing everything in my power to stay away from the little store on the way to Rob’s office that sells fresh, hot donuts in the morning for the equivalent of ten cents each. I don’t think the treadmill would like that very much.

I joked around with my friend who threw the awesome Halloween party that I was so excited to see frozen turkeys at the Boulee store and I had an idea that if I cut the turkey into chunks I could actually cook one for Thanksgiving. Then I’d feel like I was actually on an episode of the hit TV show “Lost” because I’d have to keep going back every 50 minutes to turn the buzzer back until the bird was cooked through. (She has since arranged a very nice get away on the island of Pulah Weh for Thanksgiving to which we are invited, I am sure if for nothing more than to save my family from the chunked turkey I was planning.)
After this experience I don’t think the Iron Chef has anything over me. I’d like to see him come and cook in my kitch

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Richardsons Down Under

As those who have traveled with small children know, vacationing with lots of small kiddies is never ‘rest and relaxation.’ True to fashion, we spent just enough time in our hotel room in Perth, Australia to pee, shower, sleep and heal Zach’s foot that swelled up to five times it’s size due to some untimely fire ant bites he received by hunting tree frogs in our backyard the night before embarking the airplane.

We did the necessary ‘Go to the wildlife park to feed the kangaroos, pet the koala bears (koala bees, as Zach calls them, along with his spice monkeys and chimparillas, see previous post), and hold the wombat (truly not a beautiful creature even up close),’ then it was the RICHARDSON PERTH PARK TOUR 2006.

Yes, dear friends, we hit every green space, swing set, beach side, park, BBQ pit and anything else that had any sort of turf laid down in the inner and outer limits of the city of Perth. We were wind burnt, sun burnt, abraised by the salty Indian ocean, and if that wasn’t enough, we bought a windsurfer so we could really live the ‘weigthwatcher vacations’ that Rob is accustomed to when he travels with me. (He usually keeps his girlish figure while dining on heaps of awesome food and lots of fermented beverages by hefting luggage and carrying children – usually one strapped to his chest, one on his back and one on his shoulders. I can’t do this, since I’m the navigator, and I need my hands free to point.)

We met a truly awesome bloke Mark, owner of SURF SAIL AUSTRALIA, (http://surfsailustralia.com.au ) who not only let us borrow a beginner board and accompanying hardware, but came down to the river bank to show us himself how to windsurf. We even were able to purchase a couple of sails for the boys, all of whom have had their spins on the board, and are now interested in owning surf shops when they grow up.

Now, I did windsurf in my youth, but as usual, 20 years and about the same amount of kilos later, it’s a little different. It is kind of like riding a bike, as when you finally do manage to stand up on the thing, heft the sail out of the water and point the board in some random direction, something clicks deep down inside the grey matter and your muscles fuzzily remember doing something similar a long time long before. Unfortunately for me it was ‘Oh yeah, I remember I could only sail in one direction and I’d always get stuck and have to swim back.’ But never the less, we gave it the old college try!

One question I’d like the answer to is, where in the world are the other beginning windsurfers in Perth? For that matter, where are the intermediate windsurfers in Perth? As we were struggling by the banks of the river to hoist the sail and keep our balance on the big ol’ beginner board, about 100 buff, suntanned Aussies came popping out of nowhere, whipped out their styrofoam boards, trotted to the shore, put one foot on the board and one hand on the sail and away they went, to the other side of the river. Never falling. Never even getting wet when they set off on the board. I wouldn’t be surprised if some still had on their business suits, they were so confident they wouldn’t even need to touch the water as they twirled in the bay at breakneck speed.

We on the other hand had bloodied our feet and legs from crawling back onto the board after being knocked off every 30 seconds, had to pull the seaweed out of our hair and wring out our wet suits. By the end of our time on the board, Rob had given our ship the customary lady’s name starting with a B, and I can tell you it wasn’t Betty.

We have since brought the big B to Banda and continue to bloody our legs and give the locals quite a spectacular show.

Hmm,.. what else did we do? We did drink quite the nice brews, and I must say my favorite restaurant had beverages listed as 'beer' and 'not beer'. Now, that' s talking my lanaguage. We visited the wine country where Rob put his snobby Californianized nose into the air and pronounced the whites not worthy of his sipping since they weren't 'wooded'. I, on the othere hand, said, 'who cares, it's wine and not whine.' and left him with four kids to eat ice cream at the vineyard's cafe while I sampled away in the tasting room.

What did we enjoy about our vacation the most?

1. sinks!
2. Not getting our feet wet when going into the bathroom to use the toilet, brush teeth or hair, or anything besides taking a shower
3. Western food! Even mexican food tasted good in Australia.
4. No mosque calls to prayer in the middle of the night.
5. The right for me to 'bear arms'! No high necklines or past the elbows shirts for me for 10 whole days! Yes, I was flashin' the clavicle in public again.
6. Power all the time. You could turn on a light switch and expect,.. light!
7. Water! Water to drink out of the faucet, even! The sacriledge!
8. The ability to buy alcoholic beverages without feeling like I was fakin' my age. Although it did make me feel like I was once again crossing the border to B.C. during college in order to consume legally,..
9. Being able to wear an actual swim suit to ,... swim.
10. Hanging out with daddy for the whole time.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

We're back!

Hi! We are back in Banda Aceh after a great holiday in Perth, Australia. I will post details and pictures soon. Just finding it hard to get to the office and post on the Website. Still no Internet at our house, but our school books have finally arrived! Can't complain too much! Very busy, what with Kyle being bitten by the salamander hiding in his shoe (closed toe shoes are now stored inside, against the wishes of the housekeeper and nanny), and trying to figure out 200 pounds worth of elementry school material ("use the colored shape sorters for this activity,.." "What colored shape sorters?!?!") no time to breathe.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Online Scrapbook: Images of Life in Banda

Let's start our Internet scrapbook with the picture of the only sink (besides the kitchen sink) of the first house we stayed in. this sink is outside the only bathroom with a hotwater heater. It is outside the bathroom next to the stairs and visible from the main area of the house. There is another pipe for a sink in the actual main sitting area of the house. This pipe needs to have plastic rubberbanded around it to keep the wonderful sewer aroma to a minimum.

I'd show you the picture of our sink in our 'real' house, but, oh that's right, we don't have one!

Mandi-style! Here is the typical basin of water located in typical Indonesian bathrooms. It is full of water and has a plastic scoop to scoop the water out of for washing various body parts and the bathroom itself. The bathroom must be constantly sprayed to keep the mosquito population to a minimum and bleach poured into the water to keep the subsequently laid mosquito eggs from hatching.

I was against keeping the basins full in the 'real' house, but then realized that our water pump doesn't work when there is no electricity. So, we fill the basins!

To keep the bug spray aroma (smells like mothballs) / dog odor /general smells of urban tropical environment down, we are into the whole 'get something nice to spray/leave around the house'. We found this at the local grocery store. We are not certain what the white plastic thingy is, but this is our interpretation. It's a two level room deodorizer - if the actual scent doesn't work, then you use the white plastic thingy to plug your nose as a last recourse.

Kyle riding his bike by the old house. Nice dirt road, local fauna (cow).

Typical wellstocked first aid cupboard in Banda - bandaids and a year's supply of anti malarial prophelactic and bird flu antidote. Cheers!

Apeasing the Grandmas

Sabrina! She turns 9 months the 17th of this month, unbelievable, isn't it? Shes does love those convertible sports cars!

Jared loves his little sister! He's always stealing her from me to play with. They certainly look like partners in crime, don't they? She is clapping, waving bye-bye and giving hugs and kisses.

This is Listre (TRAY as we brash Americans say). She is my second hand at home. Sabrina loves her since Tre is always giving her cookies and taking her on jalan-jalan's (walks) If I take Sabrina out, the entire way down the street I hear "Sabrrrrrina!" She is a very popular baby, as you can imagine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Yay! Pictures!

Yes, as you can see, I have finally come into the 21st century! Still haven't found the USB cable to the digital camera, and all I receive are blank stares as I ask for a USB cable, or for pictures put on a CD. Usually if I wave the film canister around and say 'CD' I am invariably driven to a DVD/CD store that sells anything you can see or listen to for about 80 cents. Not bad, and I waste my time looking for the latest box office smash to bring home or Zach adds to his arsenal of Pokeman and other Japanese animation.

These are pictures of the boys body surfing at our favorite beach. They have boogie boards and skim boards. Rob and I are trying to figure out where in the world to get a windsurfer, and Jared is lobbying for a long board. We'll see if Australia is nice to him next week,... : )

This picture above shows the one standing mosque after the tsunami.

Doesn't it just look like King Kong is going to come out of those trees on that rock? How coolly tropical, eh? Well, there it is. The northern tip of Sumatra, the biggest island of the Indonesian archipelego on the Indian Ocean.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ramadan is Here

In case you weren’t aware, we are right in the heat of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, as they take special time for worship and contemplation.

Unlike living in Cairo, which was fairly cosmopolitan compared to Banda, everyone here is expected to either live by Ramadan rules, or respect those who do by not partaking in any unallowable behaviors in public during the fasting times. This means no eating, drinking or smoking in public until sundown. At this time, and all through the night until sunrise, the fast is broken and families and friends get together to eat, pray and celebrate during the night.

This means most stores are closed during the day until late afternoon and there are only a handful of restaurants catering to the International community which are open during the day. These restaurants have their blinds drawn so those on the street can’t see in. There is a sign on one of these restaurants specifying that no Muslims will be served lunch throughout Ramadan. Actually, this same restaurant got raided by the Sharia police just this Tuesday and has been forced to close now until 4pm each day during Ramadan. Not much freedom of religion here!

Rob and the other expats have been requested not to eat in their offices during Ramadan in consideration of the local staff. Since there are very few restaurants open (and less every day, by the looks of it), there aren’t many choices for eating. Expats are sneaking into offices with doors to shove food in their mouths before returning to their desks for work. Rob has lost about 20 pounds because it’s impossible to maintain a 6’6” man on Cup of Soups for lunch.

It’s to a point where I won’t let the boys buy a Fanta at the store to drink since we are ‘outsiders’ and even though they are kids, you hate to offend anyone. It’s only been since the tsunami since many foreigners have been able to live in this area, because of the fighting between political parties. I’m just trying to walk the straight and narrow.

It’s taken me about a week to feel comfortable eating in my own home, since I’ve got quite the staff of Muslim personnel milling about, and I’ve forgone my morning cup of instant coffee in the car as we are driven to Kyle’s school. Haven’t had this much abstinence since Lent!

In Egypt I remember my horse riding instructor Ismail smoking an extra pack of cigarettes a day during Ramadan just to help keep his mind off food. There, I guess it was okay to smoke, or at least there was a little more freedom for personal interpretation of the rules.

I remember how stupid I was at Jared’s second birthday party when one of his Egyptian friends came over and I kept offering his mother food and drink, trying to be a good hostess, forgetting she couldn’t do either. Actually, I forgot and did the same to the Bahasa Indonesian teacher who has been coming to the house. Duh! Habits are hard to break.

One similarity between both countries is the fact that business slows down considerably. Most offices are only open until 3:00pm each day, and start times are much later, as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to Rob or many of the other expats. I still start my phone calling around 6pm to remind Rob that it’s dinner time and gee, it would be really nice to see him sometime during the day.

It has been quite a transformation here. There is no morning traffic, since the fast resumes at 5am and most people are probably worn out from nights of eating and praying. It is dangerous to be on the streets approaching sundown, as people race to get home in time to break the fast.

At sundown, a horn that sounds like an air raid siren goes off signaling it is okay to eat. At this time you could lay down in the road and not get hit, as there are no cars or motorcycles on the street, since everyone is eating. I’ve given up trying to get to yoga class, since it’s impossible to find a bechak (sidecar) driver who isn’t eating or praying, and I don’t dare get stuck somewhere away from home; visions of screaming babies and morose boys fill my anxious mind.

Before Ramadanthere were prayer calls in the morning, noon, and sundown. During Ramadan there are prayer calls all during the night. And a prayer call is an Imam (Islamic prayer leader) or recording of an Imam being broadcast on loudspeakers for all to hear, regardless if it is at noon, 11pm, 3am or 5am. In Egypt this was usually greeted with a cacophony of stray dogs singing along. I’ve started sleeping with a pillow over my head again.

One of the expats at the office told of how careful he had been to find a house that wasn’t near any mosques, just to find out that during Ramadhan, they open new ‘contracted’ mosques and one happened to be right next door.

If it isn’t the neighborhood mosque waking you up, it’s the guards as their friends and family bring them food during the night and they sing along to their radios, talk and have a good time. Now is the time I wish we had a little more insulation than what concrete block walls have to offer.

Oh well, another week and then it’s a two day holiday which here translates into an entire week of no working as everyone celebrates. You’ve got to love a country that honors religious holidays for Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. Not only do they recognize the Ascension of Mary, but it is a non working holiday. Now, if they would just recognize Jewish holidays, we’d only have to work half the year!

As they say here during Ramadan; “maaf lahir dan batin” “May you be forgiven for anything that may have hurt you.”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Reflections on Air Travel as a Mother of Young Children

Just got the news our Visas are approved for Perth, Australia! So, in anticipation of the packing and hauling of young children from yet one continent to another, in search of the elusive 'rest and relaxation' (kind of feel like we are looking in earnest for the Fountain of Youth, or the City of Gold), I offer up this oldie but goody reflection of travel from the eyes of a jaded maternal expat:

I have always felt safe in airports. No matter where you are in the world, if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all. Happy to have more security now, I do miss the days before September 11, when I was able to talk myself on to a plane using a Costco card with a grainy black and white picture as my sole form of ID. These days, you need to have your passport locked and loaded as you meander down the terminal, since they check it at every bend in the hallway. It’s as if they are afraid you entered as Dr. Jekyll, but now have turned into Mr. Hyde.

As for x-ray machines and security, now days I’m afraid I’ll forget to stop undressing once I get started. First the coat, then the shoes, then the belt; sometimes I’m so distracted with kids, computers and cell phones, I’m afraid I’ll just take my pants off and fold them neatly in the tray before anyone can stop me.

I am thankful that during the early years of my working motherhood, while I was nursing an infant, the security measures weren’t quite as stringent as they are now. In this day and age, not only would I have had to prove that the laptop computer I was carrying worked, but also the breast pump slung over my other shoulder. Why bother camouflaging it in a black simulated leather carrier if I’m just going to have to demonstrate it in front of one hundred of my closest friends in the middle of the terminal? Back in the day, I only had to utter the phrase ‘breast pump’ to the teenage boy disguised as a security guard when asked what type of equipment I was packing. He would come close to passing out thinking about the whole ordeal and wave me through. I could have been carrying a bazooka in the other hand for all he cared, he just wanted me out of there.

The joys of early motherhood and air travel never cease. When my first son was an infant, I would travel from Northern to Southern California for a day every week as part of my job. Trying to be a good mom, I was set on nursing, even after the first time my husband walked in on me pumping at our house and suggested something about being in a dairy. In order to perform this dignified task on the road, I purchased a cigarette lighter adapter for the car so I could pump in the relative privacy of my rental cars in between racing from airport to office and back again. Unfortunately, people are naturally curious. Why did it seem when I parked to pump in an empty lot, that particular bush next to the car was the one the gardener needed to trim at that moment? How many times had I parked in a field next to the airport to pump, only to attract other drivers who were wondering what I was looking at? Casing new office buildings and exhibit halls for bathroom stalls with access to an electric outlet for the pump became second nature, just as I’m sure CIA staff feel when they check building perimeters for points of entry.

As my kid, and subsequent kids got older, I started hauling children with me across the United States, and then between continents. We usually lucked out with bulkhead seating, where I would unload fifty pounds of snacks, books, puzzles and toys and like the pied piper of Northwest Airlines, attract every other child under the age of three to my ad hoc in flight babysitting service.

I’ve had friends who have successfully fed their children various medicines promising drowsiness to make for an enjoyable flight. I held out for a long time, relying on a new toy, piece of candy or promise of all the juice they wanted on the plane to keep my kids in line. Then I had to fly by myself from Cairo, Egypt to Seattle, Washington with a three year old, a one year old and the suspicious feeling I was pregnant again.

A friend gave me a few sea sickness pills that had conked her kid out for eight hours straight. I tried it on the one year as soon as I entered the first plane back to the good ol’ U.S. While I could have served drinks off his head he was so asleep, it only lasted one hour; not even enough to get us to Amsterdam. I gave up. I paced the airplanes for twelve hours straight, trying to keep a very active little boy occupied. I read stories, played with playdo, threw imaginary baseballs to pretend homerun hitters in an attempt to distract him from the X-Men movie playing on the screen right in front of our bulkhead seats. Wouldn’t you know that 45 minutes before landing on American soil, both the baby and the preschooler passed out, leaving me to heft two babies, one stroller, two carseats and various bags like some sort of alpaca off the plane.

For all the flying I have done, however, I feel I’ve survived everything those in the aviation business cared to throw at me. Man who only speaks Farsi having a seizure on the plane? Been there. Three hours from landing with only wine and Coke left to drink while I was six months pregnant? Yep. Security guards in small Egyptian airport decided they’d been working enough and shut off metal detector before everyone had gone through? Oh yeah. Lifting too many heavy bags at security that it put me into premature labor? Also, yes. Watching the stewardess give up when she couldn’t figure out how to secure a door during take off? Uh huh. Survived my three year old lugging a cap gun in his back pack through U.S. security when the guards drew their real guns and alarms went off? Oh wait, that was my husband.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Indonesian Language Lesson Number Two

Language lesson number two:

Max makan Alpo saja. Max eats dog food only.

Max tidak makan makanan rakyat. Max does not eat food from the dinner table.

Max makan makanan bakyat buat Max bau jekel. If you feed Max food from the dinner table, he stinks.

Love those German Shepherds! One of the traits of the dog breed happens to be a nervous stomach. Since their tail hangs low and is tucked under the body most of the time, if the stool happens to be a little ‘loose’ and sticks to the fur under the tale, it is difficult for air to get there and dry it out, hence the stinkiness.

None of the Internet sites, dog breed books or owners mentioned this unique characteristic of the animal.

I spent about two weeks in Boise, Idaho wiping one of our Shepherd’s butts, and vowed not to do it ever again. So, now it is Rob’s turn. Part of ensuring the dog’s constitution stays healthy is feeding it only things made to be digested by it. There is no ScienceDiet or Eukanuba here, only Alpo. Many breeders and dog owners will tell you that this is not a very high quality food, and may cause problems. Mix in the nanny who hates to see food go to waste, and we have one happy, albeit stinky, dog.

I really think Rob’s big fear is the fact that if bacteria start breeding in that area, there is a chance the glands will get swollen and someone will need to pop the resulting abscess. There are no veterinarians here and I think I can successfully argue that Rob has had more CPR and first aid training than me, so guess who should perform that lovely procedure?

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two Sides to Every Coin

More on the problems in Banda that seem to be coming to a head again. As I've stated previously, there have been protests at BRR, the government agency in charge of rebuilding. Last week, the protest turned a little more agressive. It seems that most of the protestors were many still living in temporary wooden barracks created for the tsunami survivors as they await their new homes. (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/JAK269386.htm)

None of this is new news. Last year, the media was reporting on corruption. Yes, it will take a long time to rebuild this area, and people are honestly doing the best they can, without the infrastructure, materials, or skilled labor they hoped they would have.
Reuters again is reporting on the situation:
Corruption, bureaucracy and heavy-handed security forces remain obstacles to economic development in Indonesia's tsunami-hit Aceh province, the head of the agency charged with rebuilding the region said on Monday.
The police and military still operate according to rules drawn up to counter a separatist insurgency even though there has been peace since last year, said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, director of the Aceh reconstruction agency, or BRR. .........
Mangkusubroto said creating a business-friendly climate and overhauling a corrupt system were some of the challenges Aceh faces in the coming years.
International agencies and countries have already put $4.6 billion into the reconstruction of Aceh -- on the northern tip of Sumatra some 1,700 km (1,000 miles) northwest of Jakarta -- after it was hit by a devastating tsunami that left up to 232,000 people dead or missing in a dozen Indian Ocean nations.
Mangkusubroto said progress in the reconstruction effort had been "encouraging".He said all basic infrastructure would be in place by 2009 and all 128,000 new houses for displaced tsunami survivors would be complete by the end of next year.
The reconstruction agency is under fire after a leading Indonesian anti-graft group charged last month that there were financial irregularities in five BRR projects worth 23.9 billion rupiah ($2.6 million).
Some BRR officials said the report was inaccurate and could affect disbursement of funds from foreign donors. Mangkusubroto has said several staff were being investigated.
Corruption is endemic in Indonesia although the BRR has taken a number of steps to try to minimise or eliminate it in the recovery effort.

Read the article in its entirety at http://www.alertnet.org.thenews/newsdesk/JAK316906.htm

There is much going on here, from rebuilding houses, to helping farmers grow crops to healing children and adults from the worst tsunami on record.

On the 'soft side' as they say, in the NGO world, WorldVision successfully completed an Arts and Crafts Exhibit consisting of sculptures, handicrafts, and paintings from mroe than 200 children and 50 youth from Aceh Besar, southeast of Banda.

The exhibit attracted more than 400 people. Handicrafts inlcluded flowers sculpted from soap, wooden spoons, farmers hats and children's kites.

This article can be seen at http://www.alertnet.org.thenews/fromthefield/217167/115795372062.htm.

To give you a nice perspective on the whole shebang from the faith-based, NGO, CRS side of things, read this wonderful speech given last year, if you have a couple moments. Okay, maybe more than a couple. It goes back to something I said earlier about this organization being a good neighbor; something to be proud to be a part of, whether it is as a donor, a worker, or a discombobulated spouse. http://www.crs.org/about_us/newsroom/speeches_and_testimony/releases.cfm?ID=26

Monday, September 25, 2006

Tsunami Relief Under Fire

Well, I've been discussing a bit in previous posts the problems NGOs have been facing here. Several articles are hitting the media:
http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2006Sep23/0,4670,TsunamiBuildingBadly,00.html or http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-tsunami-corruption,0,393624.story?coll=sns-ap-world-headlines for the story.

We see the brunt of it here personally. Many demonstrations at the government agency, BRR that will probably get worse as we get closer to elections. Rob has angry villagers in his office pretty much every day. The NGOs are working hard to get these houses built. We feel safe, but are certainly cautious.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Just Another Day in Indonesia

It’s just another day in Indonesia.

Kyle has a week long break from his ex-pat run kindergarten. It is located in the bottom level of a Japanese/Australian national’s house. There are about six other kids who attend: two Americans, one Nepalese, one Tjekastanian, one French, and one Canadian. A real melting pot. The teacher is an Indonesian woman married to a Swede. She speaks five languages.

We celebrated Sabrina’s eighth month mark on Sunday. She is trying so hard to crawl, but only manages to scoot backwards at the moment. She can stand on her legs with assistance. She loves to ‘dance’ to music if you sing to her; she bobs her head back and forth to ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and other nursery rhymes. I am continually amazed that she is becoming more and more than just a crying, pooping, eating, sleeping blob every day.

Rob called. He is on his way to a meeting at the UN that may last well until after dinner. At the moment he is hiding out in someone else’s office waiting for a sandwich to be delivered to him. It seems there are a bunch of angry workers protesting outside of his office. The contractor hasn’t paid them and they want help from CRS getting their money. He doesn’t want to be late for his meeting, so he is trying to avoid the angry mob scene. He’s getting good at this angry mob scene, as usually it is villagers protesting outside his office.

The other night we went out to find a bazaar of hand made products from local women that has been going on for a week. Tonight was the last night. We made it just as they were shutting down. When asking when the next one would be, the reply was ‘next year.’ Argh! This is tough news from someone like me who takes my role in spiking the local economy very seriously. I think I had a measurable impact on the Philippine gross national product while we were stationed on Luzon.

I left dejected and we went out to dinner at the UN’s World Food Programme on the UN complex. It’s a nice little place for expats to go and have a meal; cheap and tasty. We knock on the heavy metal gates and they open, like we are at some Mob restaurant. Once inside we sign in to get our ID badge at the guard station. Then we order at the outdoor ‘cafe’, which is enclosed on three sides with shuttered windows on the walls and a roof. Trouble is, it’s darned HOT in this country and with the fry stoves going and the wooden shutters closed to keep out the stray dogs, frogs and mosquitoes, it is stifling. The boys enjoy the ambience of the neon light bug zappers and what do I care, at least I get out of my house. I’m so hot it’s hard to eat.

There is even a bar on the facility, since it is governed by UN law, not Indonesian law. Although a few weeks ago, the sharia police (Islamic police) got all the way into the facility and shut it down. After going all the way to the UN Director, the bar is back in business. Thanks, Kofi!

Otherwise, we are careful about the fermented beverage consumption. We go to a particular place of business and Rob strolls down the isle until the owner spots him. After a while, an employee of the store brings a case of “fanta”, “milk” or whatever tied with green ribbon to the car and we depart. We keep it out of sight and crush our cans.

That is because, honestly, if anyone suspects you are breaking the law (as drinking foamy juice is) they can call the police to inspect your home. This isn’t the US, they don’t need a warrant. There have been problems more with expat men mixing with local women and being charged with adultry and then caned. Not pleasant.

If you bring a case of foamy juice to a dive shop on a nearby island, it buys you a free dive.

There are some restaurants that cater to expats and they do serve special beverages. It is listed as non alcoloholic local beer (Bintang is the Indonesian beer that yes, is made and drunk in public everywhere but here in this province), but when you give them that special wink, it gets poured in the kitchen. There are special lookouts at these restaurants who will run up and warn you the Sharia are entering the premise and have you guzzle your brew before you are caught.

We spent another day at the beach this weekend. Beautiful weather. Unfortunately, there have been about 27 drownings at this particular beach. I can see why since you are forced to swim with all your clothes on. We watch the kids carefully as they boogie board and skim board. They’ve all gotten sand blasted from taking waves all the way into the beach, and two out of three have received bloody noses from being slammed by the water. When the waves are not so big, you can float without even trying, there is so much salt in the water. When we are out and about people who know us point and say, “The Richardsons swim at the dangerous beach!” Honestly so far, it’s got nothin’ on Newport. But we know to be careful.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Ah,. finally in our new home. As Rob and I were relaxing yesterday morning, I realized this was the first weekend since the middle of June where we weren’t packing, in transit or living out of suitcases in someone else’s house. It feels good to be stationary for a little while.

The house is very nice. It is one story, which I’m thankful for, as we had a little ‘welcome to your new home’ earthquake yesterday. (just found out is was a 5.5 44 miles from Banda)

Jared has his own room. Both of the boys’ rooms have bathrooms. I’ve drained the large basin of water out of both for fear of someone drowning. There is a spigot, as usual, but no sinks. So I bought large plastic tubs to place on the floor under the spigots. Now, if (and it’s a large if, isn’t it?) they wash their hands, the water goes into the tubs and not on their feet. Voila! Sinks!

Sabrina also has a room, but since she’s getting up at all hours, she is still in the port-a-crib with us. The housekeeper and nanny have confiscated her room, turning it into the ironing space. And there is quite a bit of ironing since they iron everything including towels, socks, jeans and underwear.

We have an indoor kitchen! It used to be outside, but they walled it in and it doesn’t look half bad. There is only screen on the open concrete blocks and there are windows and a door separating the whole space from the rest of the house, but it’s indoors enough for me. We even have an air conditioner for it so it can actually be enjoyable.

There is no oven, just a two burner cook top attached to bottled gas. I think I’ll get a toaster oven, and that will constitute the ‘oven’ for the next year. I must say that pan fried garlic bread isn’t half bad.

I never thought I could sustain seven people off of a mini refrigerator, but I’m finding it can be done. And as if the fridge weren’t small enough as it is, the shelves inside of it are broken and being held together by saran wrap – which by the way – doesn’t work. So, we basically have one shelf in this little, tiny fridge. But it’s starting not to irritate me any more.

And that is because this house has water! We even have a hot water heater that works in our bathroom. Of course, this is the only place with hot water, so our bathroom is the designated shower spot. No bathtubs. No hot water to wash the dishes or clothes.

I bought a baby tub for Sabrina so the nanny would stop giving her mandi style baths – basically holding a naked baby on the floor in the bathroom and dousing her with cups of cold water.

She is using the baby tub and even relenting to filling it with ayre panass (hot water). But I can’t get her to do the bath in my bathroom where there is hot water. Instead, she insists on heating water on the burner in the kitchen.

The house came with a wardrobe for each bedroom which is very nice since Indonesians haven’t heard of a closet. We also have beds, TV set, and kitchen table. I can use a couple of boxes as end tables, and they don’t look half bad covered in sheets, but I do insist on having some real furniture. I’m not twenty and living in a dorm. I’m inching near forty and I have four kids. I deserve a couch.

So I hauled my husband and children out to the furniture stores to look at something to sit on. I do think there are only six different styles of couches in the entire city of Banda and they all came from either Elton John’s summer home or the production set of ‘That 70’s Show’.

We decided on a set of couches at the third store, since they were half the price of the others. Everything is sold as a set; a couch, love seat and chair. As a bonus (gratis) you get a glass coffee table.

My nice peach colored floral couch set got the thumbs down from all the boys so we settled on a very disco era brown plaid. I have an aversion to glass coffee tables on tile floors (overactive imagination visualizing children’s heads exploding) so Rob negotiated two wood end tables instead.

Since everything is cash based here, we shook on the price and then told them we’d be right back with the money. After three ATM machines not giving up cash and a frantic overseas call to the bank to make sure we were still solvent, we ended back up at the furniture store offering US dollars and debating the exchange rate.

We all came to an agreement for the amount. We loaded the three pieces into the back of the pickup truck and followed the owner on his motorcycle to his second store, where we picked up our end tables. Rob handed him his business card and told him if there was any problem with the money to let him know. We shook hands and off we went.

Friday, the shop owner showed up at Rob’s office. It seems the exchange rate at the time was a little less and we owed him six more dollars.

Now we have some nice couches to sit on, and I’ve been collecting wicker shelving for the 2000 pounds of kid’s toys we hauled over.

Pretty much everything is unpacked excepted for boxes labeled as books. I can only hope that some items that I was hoping would make it in the shipping container are actually there in the last boxes. Like the CD/DVD player we bought in the Philippines. I’ve set up four different households in four different countries now, and would really like to reuse SOMETHING once in a while.

Unfortunately, most of the stuff I was hoping to bring over got sent to storage. I blame this on my incredible ineptitude with anything having to do with space or weight.

CRS will allow families to bring over 6500 pounds, but will not pay for packing and storage of anything left behind. When we moved from Boise, Idaho we had 18,000 pounds worth of stuff! This wasn’t going to work for us.

Instead, we negotiated CRS pay for the packing and transfer of our storage and the shipping of 2000 pounds here to Banda Aceh.

In order for the company to pack you up, they send an agent out to do a visual assessment of what you have and how many supplies they will need. So, I showed the agent what I wanted to bring over; kid’s furniture, the kitchen, all the toys, my scrapbooking supplies. After the tour, I asked him nonchalantly how much weight I had. He told me 9000 pounds. 9000 pounds! I told him to forget the kid’s furniture. He said I was down to about 5000 pounds. Okay, no kitchen stuff. We can buy everything over there; heck I’ve done it twice before. Now we’re down to about 3000. Fine, take out my office stuff, including most of the scrapbooking supplies, all the grownup books because what am I thinking, I have four kids, I don’t have time to read, and half the kid books because I’m sure their minds won’t rot if they don’t have every Caldecott winner for the last two decades with them in the new house. Now we’re talking.

Great. Now I have to get the rest of what I own into a 10 x 30 storage unit down the street. Rob and I had been thinking of getting rid of the formal dining set, now was the time to do it. 3000 pounds gone. After several trips to Goodwill and about three dumpsters, I’m feeling pretty good about my house and it’s contents.

The shipper comes and asks me if I have the entire storage facility rented because I’m gonna need it. I start sweating. After two days of eye rolling, deep sighs, and ‘you sure have a lot of stuff!’ comments from the shipper, we squeeze it into the moving truck.

I’ve had Rob call ahead and rent out two additional storage units, just in case. I’ve been discussing storage options with the truck driver. “I want it packed really tight!” When I tell him finally “I want it tight – like a puzzle!” His eyes finally light up and they happily start wedging boxes and furniture hari kari in the unit. We make it into only one! We don’t even have to give away an armoire that was in the ‘toss if the ship is sinking’pile . It’s kind of depressing to see everything you own packed into a 10x30 storage unit.

Back to the house, we still have the overseas shipment to deal with. We have him bring a scale to the house to make sure we don’t exceed our designated poundage. You know how much it stings at Christmas time to pay to ship packages? Can you imagine how much it costs to send an extra few pounds to Sumatra, Indonesia?

We weigh each package. At the end we have 1500 pounds. 1500 pounds! I can stick 500 more pounds in there and everything I need to bring over, like cookbooks and silverware, towels and shoes are in storage. I start throwing in more kids’ stuff. The plastic playhouse. The Little Tikes car. The dumptruck and the wagon. We weigh out 500 more pounds of plastic kid stuff and finally seal the container.

Now, here at the other end, we have everything a child could desire, but the computer printer I was hoping for didn’t make it. There is no CD player. I can’t find ANY scrapbooking supplies. I have no cookbooks. I did unearth a fondue pot and 2000 pounds worth of kids’ toys.

If you think packing that fondue pot and 2000 pounds worth of kids’ toys was a lot of work, wait until the adventure of actually getting it to the house where we are now living.

The shipment made it to port here in Indonesia in about a month and was delivered to Banda Aceh even before we could move into our new house (had to kick out the man still living in it first,..) It was unpacked and driven down in a truck about the size of an American garbage truck. All 2000 pounds and a bevy of men rode in the back of this truck for God knows how long to get here to the tip of Sumatra. Then, it parked at the CRS office and was unloaded into two pick up trucks. The roads here in town are pretty narrow, and the roads to our actual house are only one lane total, most of which is either in dirt or has so many potholes, it might as well be dirt. It took three pick up truck loads for all the toys to make it to the house.

I was glad for the tinted windows as the locals stopped what they were doing to see the packing boxes tied six feet tall with green ribbon on the back of these NGO trucks. Expats who are neighbors commented they thought someone from the hills was moving into town since the trucks were so dirty (rainy season, hence lots of mud.) Yes, the Yucaipa Hillbillies have moved into town.

Now I am almost unpacked. I almost have time to use the treadmill we bought from the previous owner. It has its own room right outside the house with an actual air conditioner. You just have to dodge the lizard poop on the floor and have the tread do a few revolutions to get the flying ant wings off before stepping on.

Now all we need is a phone that works, and we’ll almost feel like we live in paradise. Almost.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bathroom break Aceh style

Thought you might enjoy some pictures of Rob out and about on Pulah Aceh, another island where CRS and others are building shelters. Bathrooms (as seen here) , as are most houses, are not to Western scale!

It takes about two hours on a 'ferry' to this island. On this particular day we had torrential rain storms that night, but thankfully it had cleared by the time they made it to the villages for a look-see. Rob was afraid they'd all be on motor bikes in the rain since the CRS vehicle was on the fritz. Thankfully, a contractor had a vehicle for them to use so Rob at least, wasn't dragging his feet in the mud as he trekked around the countryside!

He's been having a quite a few days out in the field. CRS has finally turned over about 50-odd houses, (the first set!) and there was a big ceremony for that. He was invited to attend as they gave the house key to one of the village recipients - in this case an older single woman. Kind of a nice gesture in such a traditional Muslim country, honestly.

Then, another village, thankful for all the work being done for them, asked CRS to attend a traditional newborn baby ceremony, so Rob got to go there, as well. (I think he just enjoys the free meals!) He ate banana tree soup and checked in on the 7 day old infant.

He's plugging along trying to get these shelters done and working long hours. He's hiring an arsenal of new staff to keep up with all the work. It's been an emotional journey, as there was quite a bit of corruption going on and many contractors split after being paid for more work than they completed. Many houses need to be retrofitted before people even move in the first time, and Rob's had many angry villagers in his office asking CRS to pull out of their villages. This is happening for all the NGOs who are building shelters.

You forget what happened here, and why it's been such a struggle to rebuild,.. but don't forget that on December 26th, 2004, half a million Acehnese were left homeless, 1 million homes were destroyed and 650 villages were completely washed away. CRS and other NGOs are here to give these people new homes that will be safe ("build back better") and in some cases, relocating entire villages.

Rob just hired a new local engineer who lost his mother and two siblings in the tsunami. When Rob tried to assign him to Puah Aceh island, he admitted he had a 'fear of the sea.' I can't even begin to imagine,....

So, it's wonderful that he is here with all his knowledge and expertise to help in areas where he is needed, but it's been the most stressful move we've ever made. So, keep him and all the NGOs here in your thoughts and prayers!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Away on Pulah Weh

*** Sorry! Just moved and no phone line, hence no postings! Thanks for your patience! ****

English phrases needing to be translated into Bahasa Indonesia for next van rental on Pulah Weh:

“Do you know where you are going?”
“Please use your low gear.”
“Do you have benzene?”
“Do you have breaks?
“I see smoke. Is there a problem?”

Ahhhhhh,... paradise! Our little family of six found a dog sitter (unheard of!) and was able to break away from Banda Aceh for the weekend with our friend Chris and three Javanese ladies from the CRS Melaboh office.

After schooling our new found best friend, Wan the dog sitter, on how to manage the dog – complete with little pictures of a clock on a piece of paper showing him when to do everything – we left Saturday morning for the island of Pulah Wah.

CRS of course sent over a pick up truck instead of a van into which we squeezed Chris, the driver, Rob, me, three boys and Sabrina ‘hyper octopus’ Richardson into the four door cab. (Reminds me of the joke we used to tell in Cairo, Egypt – “how many people can fit on a bus in Cairo? One more!”)

We made it to the ferry terminal unscathed and bought our tickets for the one hour ride; about $6.00 for adults and $3.50 for children. The ferry was very nice, with upholstered seats. It went fast and we made it to Pulah Wah, about 30 miles in the distance, in less than an hour.

As usual, everyone got out of their seats and started the mad rush for the door before the ship even hit port. It wasn’t until we started getting haggled by people for a taxi we realized they opened the front doors to let the passengers out and the back door to let the drivers in. Enlightened, we pushed ourselves into the crowd and were unceremoniously spit out into a parking lot crammed with old ‘hippy’ buses (as Jared called them) and worn looking, leathery entrepreneurs beckoning us into their own personal death traps.

After kicking a few tires and making sure side doors would close, we selected the least ominous looking ride and started on our hour long journey to Gapang Bay. No aircon, but as long as the windows were open and the bus was moving, we at least had a breeze. I took all the clothes off the baby, we requested the driver please not smoke and were on our merry way.

Rob folded his legs up as best he could, but his forehead kept hitting the tassled, red satin ribbon glued to the space above the front window. Sayings from the Khoran embossed on gold medallions dangled from the rear view mirror. Our Javanese friends asked for rock n’roll music but the driver only had three choices, house music, house music or house music.

So we ambled up the road with the blown out speakers blaring some sort of indistinguishable techno pop as we traded language lessons, such as Chris explaining , “Jalan in English means shitty road.”

Half way through our journey we stop at a side of the road ‘store’ (naked child running around, make shift pieces of plywood nailed together to form what looks like an order window with small bags of snacks hanging on strings, old men with only three or four gold teeth left among them spitting and sipping coffee) to buy bananas for the show we are anticipating ahead – monkeys!

The bananas looked good enough to eat, so I did, only to spit out my bite. They have seeds; big, black ones. Didn’t see that one coming.

Instead, I join children in hurling bananas out the window at monkeys as they jump from thick trees towards the van. Van doesn’t stop for fear monkeys will climb inside. We have already witnessed the wrath of the monkeys in Rob’s pre-move Indonesia video where one hissed at the camera.

Zach, always the creative thinker, has named these ‘spice monkeys’ (he couldn’t remember the word for hiss, and ‘spice’ filled the spot nicely in his six year old brain). The spice monkeys join the ranks of his other favorite animals, hippomopotomuses and chimporillas.

Our van climbs and descends precarious switch backs leaving me either grasping the unbolted seat with white knuckles as we careen down mountainsides or leaning forward and waving to every other car as it passes us up steep hills.

Make it to Gapang Bay Resort. Check out dive shop and beach.

After Rob unloads luggage (which basically consists of two boogie boards, toothbrushes and a couple of diapers) into our cabin, we eat at the local restaurant. Excellent! We share ‘nasi goreng special’ (fried rice with an over hard fried egg and piece of fried chicken), chicken curry, fried potatoes and watermelon juice.

Afterwards, I take the boys on their boogie boards and we snorkel right off the beach. Amazing – the boys see “Nemo” and coral and dive for starfish. Then, Rob and Chris take off for the dive boat to go SCUBA in the Indian Ocean. The kids and I spend the next three hours playing on the beach. A local brings hot-from-the-oven donuts, coconut fritters and banana cake in her plastic laundry basket for us to buy. It’s great.

We ate fish cooked over flaming coconut shells for dinner. Zach catches hermit crabs by daylight and frogs at night.

Afterwards, we retire to our ‘bungalow’, which realistically, has more in common with a yurt than an actual hotel room. Whatever, right? All you really need is a bathroom and a bed, and this contains both. The beds have mosquito nets which Sabrina mistakes for a circus tent and goes wild after being held all day.

The next morning we awaken and stay safely enshrouded in bed, as quite a population of mosquitoes is flitting around outside the nets. That morning I wave good bye to the boys and the baby and hit the dive shop for my recertification. It’s been four years and a baby since I attempted to slide into my wet suit and I say a little prayer when it fits. Have fun diving for an hour, but never see the sea turtles we were hoping to glimpse.

Coming back to the beach area, I find Sabrina holding court with Rob and about ten locals all exclaiming how cute she is. (If only they had attempted to sleep with her under the circus tent.)

Chris and his friends have whisked Jared away to go snorkeling off a boat. Rob takes the little boys out in deeper water where they see a three foot long cuttlefish that scares Kyle to death. Zach captures an eight inch long baby lizard by its tail that was swimming on the shoreline escaping from a couple of playful dogs. When he puts it back down it turns around and hisses, which causes him to scream and all the locals laugh.

We hurriedly pack up and meet our scheduled van. This van is even worse than the first. I don’t think there is a single piece of original metal on the body of the vehicle.

We make it to the terminal, buy snacks from a cart and ride home to Banda. It isn’t until I step off the ferry back in Banda that I realize how nice it has been to get away. You don’t know how oppressive it feels to live in a stressful environment until you leave and come back.

It was a lot like leaving Cairo to visit Malta during Christmas our first year overseas. It was relieving to visit such a Catholic Christian country right in the middle of the Holy season. It reminded me of my polish family in Michigan, with all the tacky Baby Jesus dolls dressed to high fashion and stored in the front windows of the homes.

There are some things that just can’t be fixed by having your friend’s gardener fashion two shrubs together to look like a Christmas tree. Sometimes you just have to get away.

I think that might be Pulah Weh for us. An amazing beach, great diving, nice people and those darned coconut fritters,.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Banda FAQ

I have had many great questions, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to answer as many as possible.

What time is it over there?

We are 14 hours ahead of the West coast. So, when you are just waking up, I am finishing my last Bintang beer and heading for bed. The time difference gives people I work with the illusion that I am wonderfully efficient and dedicated, as if they request something from me, I can usually have it waiting in their inbox the following morning.

Is there fast food?

There is! There is KFC, A&W and Pizza House. Thank goodness, because I’ve got three boys to feed,... Fried chicken is a big thing here as it was in the Philippines. Not spaghetti though. You could find spaghetti everywhere in the Philippines, including McDonalds. And it usually came with hot dog pieces. Not my cup of tea.

Then there are the sidewalk vendors with all sorts of ‘goreng goreng’ – fried foods. And many juice vendors. I’ve tried the pisang goreng – fried bananas, which are awesome, especially with the chili sauce. Yum!

The guards brought coffee over too – in a bag! Very sugary. I’ve actually switched to Nescafe – yes absolute sacrilege to my Washington family and friends – but I’ve been doing the decaf dance for so long, I can’t handle the beans here. It’s so acidic and strong I have stomach pain and heart palpitations. Must be getting old,..
I have to say that I haven’t tried many other street food, and it’s not because I’m some snobby bule, it’s because of those two little words, ‘cholera’ and ‘typhoid’. Gotta build up the stomach of steel first.

How do you get food?

I’ve got several options. First, is the market where we attract quite a small crowd when we go in. The people seem very friendly and happy to see us, and I think they are charging me a fair price, although we communicate only with smiles, hand gestures and a calculator. And Jared rolling his eyes and correcting me when I get the wrong number or pronounce something weird.

Second they have ‘supermarkets’ called Pante Pirak – I think it’s the name of the company, like Safeway or Vons. But that is where the similarities end. I get so excited to get out of the house and go shopping – you know me – but I go down that first isle and NOTHING is in English and it gets overwhelming very fast. And I’m used to shopping at Costco, so buying things here means I have to go back to the store often.

The last option is a specialty store that opened due to all the NGOs coming into town in the last year and a half – it is affectionately known as the Bule (foreigner) Store. Here is where I can find dog food, pringles chips and various and sundry things that will keep my picky six year old from starving to death.

I bought out the frozen flour tortillas and no one seems to know what I’m asking for when I inquire about the next time they will be in stock, so I’ll have to figure out what substance is flour at the supermarket and smash little flour balls between a couple of plates someday.

What do you eat over there?

First of all, throw out everything you Southern California people are trying to do, like eat whole grains and grill everything. Here, if it ain’t processed or fried, chances are, I ain’t eatin’ it.

I can find whole grain bread, but it’s 20,000 Rupia ($2.20) which, yes, doesn’t seem that expensive, but when you pay for white bread and it’s only forty cents, you get kind of used to it.

And I can’t for the life of me figure out the oven, which is running on some sort of gas, and if it involves me switching on an explosive substance and lighting a small fire, it’s probably better if I don’t do it myself.

So I’m a fryin’ machine! And it takes me two hours to cook anything, since most everything is gathered from various markets (yes, I send my maid out to shop when it’s just too overwhelming and hot of a day to take three boys and a baby and my Indonesian phrasebook out.) and I can’t seem to find a vegetable peeler anywhere. Did find the cheese grater,.. now to find the cheese,...which is a processed kraft cheddar sitting on the shelves,.. along with the milk in UHT containers. Yum, yum!

Do I have household help?

Don’t cry for me Argentina,...Okay, so yes, I have a housekeeper. Her name is Rena and I love her. She’s the wife I always joked I needed. She cleans all the dishes I stack in the sink, she mops the floor, she irons the underwear. She works five days a week from 8 until 5 and she costs me $80 a month. I am never leaving!

Now, to disgust you even more, I am probably going to get a live in nanny, who will wipe runny noses, hold squawky babies and cook a meal here and there. She will run about $130 a month.

It’s been tough (if you can call it that) because we have the dog. The nanny may have to be imported from Medan, about 10 hours up the road. Dogs are not popular here. When I was discussing getting a nanny with Kyle’s Indonesian kindergarten teacher, her comment was “You might have to import a Christian from Medan.” So, Christians are thought of in this neck of the woods as being promiscuous and liking dirty animals. Not great.

How is Max doing?

Max the dog is in heaven, although sequestered to being inside unless we are out with him so he doesn’t give anyone a heart attack. Muslims believe dogs are unclean (as are pigs, so no pork bacon or ham unless you know where to go,..) so they are not allowed to touch dogs, and most are absolutely terrified of Max because they’ve never been around a dog before. And, unfortunately, Max is a big 80 pound German Shephard. The guards are fine, as is Rena the housekeeper, although they are very careful about not touching him. I had a nanny who lasted only three hours. She couldn’t get over her fear of Max.

How are the kids doing?

They are doing well! Kids are adaptable, thank goodness. Now that the initial shock that we can’t just go out whenever we want – I have no car and I can’t possibly get all of us in a pedicab, or motorcycle with a sidecar, we are stuck at home accept when I take Kyle to and from school, basically.

Kyle is enrolled in an expat kindergarten that has six kids in it – two from the US, one from Nepal, one from France, one from Kazakhstan and one from Japan/Australia – a real melting pot! The teacher is an Indonesian woman who speaks five languages. The school is on the bottom floor of an expat’s house.

The big boys get PE two mornings a week with a local man who is teaching them ‘football’ (Aunt Wendy will be so proud!) He had to go down to the football field with a shovel to move all the cow paddies so the boys could play.

As usual, we attracted quite a crowd and Zach had them all laughing as he missed the ball he was trying to kick, lost his balance and landed on his bottom on top of the soccer, er, football.

We are slowly finding other expat kids and that is great. That’s the hardest part of this – taking kids away from their friends.

We have found a swimming pool we go to once and a while during the week, as well. But nothing compares to the beach! It is awesome! White sand, nice waves and jungle cliffs to the side. It’s amazing and humbling to think that this is where the tsunami hit. You can still see debris tangled in the exposed roots of some of the trees that survived the water. And the big mosque, which as the only standing building after the tsunami that has spawned countless tales of the wrath of God.

What do you wear?

Well, it’s sharia law here, but I don’t dress all that differently than I did in Egypt. Jeans, long sleeve shirts, I have to watch the necklines! It’s HOT. The biggest bummer is having to wear clothes to the beach. So far, I’ve been wearing exercise capris and a tee shirt to go swimming in and that seems to be okay. I’m careful not to go in the water if we have a lot of locals around.

The boys and Sabrina can wear whatever they want.

I hope that answers lots of questions! Thanks so much for all your comments and emails! It keeps me going!