Quarantine

I knew from the news and talking to friends and family that life in Ohio would be very different when we arrived, but I wasn’t fully prepared. Social distancing wasn’t really happening when we left Cairo. We started teleworking, alternating our days at work and at home, our kids were home from school but still playing with their friends, and we were still enjoying hanging out with our neighbors.

The morning after we landed, Governor DeWine announced that anyone arriving to Ohio should self-isolate for 14 days. We had already basically planned to do this with my parents and my brother  since they had all stopped working. My mom purchased groceries for our rental house and had it all set up for us. We knew to bring our own Lysol wipes and toilet paper, but she had our favorite foods and an impressive selection of beer for JR waiting for us.

Pretty quickly we realized we needed more food, so I tried to order on Instacart but deliveries were several days out. We called S, a college student and family friend, to ask if we could pay her to buy our groceries and run other errands for us. She was up for it, so that was helpful although not cheap.

I went on a desperate hunt for Aperol, because I really wanted to make an Aperol Spritz. First issue was that my college shopper is underage. No problem, I have family members that work at the drive-thru. Thank goodness for essential workers! My joy was short-lived because they didn’t sell it and had never heard of it. My mom, bless her, started making calls. She called Jerry’s, a bar/restaurant in town, to see if they’d sell us a bottle. They didn’t have it, but the woman who answered said if we found it at Buehler’s she’d be happy to pick it up for us since we were quarantining. #smalltownperks. No luck when we called Buehler’s. Then my mom called a spirits store in the next town and huzzah, he had it! He let me pay over the phone, then I drove over and he loaded it into the trunk with zero contact between us. A quarantine victory!

I still checked the Instacart app each day, and one day it gave me a delivery option within 5 hours. We quickly filled a cart and then I watched in awe as a shopper was assigned and started chatting with me while he bought my groceries. The technology! He sent me a very kind personalized note, and messaged me when items I’d requested were out of stock.

It’s possible he thought I needed extra prayers because of all the ice cream on my list.

My feelings have been all over the place lately (State Med if you’re reading this, I’m totally stable! Promise!). I’m relieved to be home. I feel an immense sense of hometown and state pride right now, this feeling of everyone coming together to try to do the right thing, that we’re all in this together. And then I feel sad and scared that this is all happening, wondering what will happen next. What will it be like in a week or a month or 6 months?

We couldn’t eat together with our extended family on Easter, including my Grandma M (the one we usually live with when we are here), so I dropped off a plate of food for her. I opened her garage door and walked up to the steps to put down the plate. The door into the house has a window on top, so I could see her walking up to it. She waved at me, I smiled and signaled at the food. I yelled “I’m sad. I wish I could hug you.” She said “I know. It’s okay.” I started to cry but didn’t want her to see me getting upset so I waved and then walked back to the car. I could not have imagined a scenario where we would be forbidden from visiting with and hugging our loved ones.

Funny timing that while I was writing this, my friend B (lover of a good hug!) shared this with me. I look forward to the day when things are back to normal (normal-ish? new normal?). I just want to give some hugs.

Image may contain: text

The Longest Flight

That’s not my normal exaggeration, our flight from Cairo to Washington, D.C. was my longest plane ride ever. It was scheduled to last 12 hours, and we were certainly seated on the plane that long, but from take off to landing I think it was about 11.5 hours. Truth be told, it wasn’t terrible. The fear and anticipation was probably worse for me mentally than the actual flight.

We woke up around 5:00am to get ready. Kids were up at 6, and by 7:15 we were in our shuttle van on the way to the airport. Considering that the Cairo airport was closed and we were the only flight of the day, you might have thought that the check in process would be faster. It was not. I was hyper-aware of every thing the kids touched (I lost count at 1000 opportunities to get sick). It was a relief when we dropped off our checked bags and then went to wait at the gate.

We had Jake’s monster car seat for the plane, 2 strollers that we gate checked, and 5 carry on bags packed to the brim with food, mostly. After our last flight (we hadn’t flown since we arrived in Egypt in August, which is unusual for us) I vowed to pack less activities for the kids and rely more on the iPads. The issue is this flight was during the day, not an overnight. My kids love movies and shows, but even they don’t want to watch a screen for 12 hours straight.

Honestly, the flight was as uneventful as we could have hoped. William napped for a while, Abby stayed up the entire time, and Jake slept off and on. Jake had the hardest time since he’s recently begun to walk and he loves to explore. He wanted to get down on the floor and we had to keep him confined to our laps or his car seat. JR and I took turns passing him back and forth most of the time. The lovely passengers in the rows right behind us played endless peekaboo with him. Everyone did pretty well until the last 20 minutes or so. By that point it was about 11pm our time, so well past bedtime. Abby finally broke down in tears, William was throwing a major fit, and Jake was fighting sleep in the carrier.

We were told our strollers would be at baggage claim, but we weren’t prepared for the long walk or how many times William would throw himself on the ground while we made our way to a shuttle and then to passport control. JR was carrying the 20+ pound car seat, I was wearing Jake, and William alternated being carried, crying, and occasionally taking a few steps on his own before tantruming all over again.

We were a mess while we waited in a short line for passport control. Just then, I remembered that I had a banana in my backpack leftover from our snacks. JR told me not to worry about it, we could throw it away on the other side. I was like, yeah but what if he asks me about it? He gave me this look like, don’t you dare even think about it. We walked up the customs officer and answered some standard questions about where we had traveled. Then he looked directly at me and asked if I had any food in my bags. I said, yes some snacks for the kids. He followed up with “any fruits or vegetables”?

As casually as possible I said, oh I think I still have a banana in there but we don’t need it so I can just throw it away. He said “I’m sorry, you’ve passed the point of no return. You’ll need to visit the team at the Agriculture office to take care of this.”

You can probably imagine the look JR gave me.

Honestly, it’s been a week and he still hasn’t forgiven me. But I couldn’t lie! To a law enforcement officer! He put all of our passports in this clear plastic box and called for a colleague to direct us down a very long path, far in the direction we wanted to be going. We walked and walked. Well, William didn’t really walk, of course. Finally we arrived in a separate waiting room set up like the DMV. I panicked. What had I done?! Just as we were called up, an officer informed us one of our children (I’m sure you can guess who) had run away. William made it almost back to passport control before JR caught him.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture officer walked up to me and said “ma’am, so you have a banana in your bag?” Near tears I replied, “yes, and maybe even two clementines. I’m sorry!”. He said why don’t you give me those, I’ll throw them away, and you can go get your bags. Bless his kind heart.

The whole ordeal lasted less than an extra 20 minutes, but it was still a setback. We made it back to baggage claim and I won’t bore you with the frustration of collecting all of our bags, not being able to find one for the longest time because someone had pulled it off and pushed it to the side, and the conveyor belt holding the strollers not working and preventing us from getting ours off.

There were no connecting flights to Ohio that night. When faced with the idea of taking all of our stuff, checking into a hotel, and returning to the airport the next day, my mom, as usual, stepped in to save the day. She rented a 15 passenger van and drove from Ohio to DC with my brother to pick us up. They were waiting for us when we walked out of baggage claim. They scooped up the kids, helped us load the car, filled us with food, and let us sleep most of the 6 hour ride home.

We’re getting settled in our AirBNB in my hometown, just a few miles from my parents. We’re quarantining with them and my brother. We all know it’s a risk, but no one is working or having physical contact with other people so we’re doing our very best, and we’re so thankful to be home.

 

 

Back in Ohio

Surprise, we’re back in Ohio! How did we end up here?

I’m trying to remember when coronavirus really became a daily concern for me. I think it was mid-February when we started reading news reports about a bad outbreak in northern Italy and Milan. I was on the elevator at work and remarked that I hoped this wouldn’t impact our trip to Italy in late March (we planned to fly in to Milan and then drive down to Lucca to meet my parents for vacation). A colleague turned to me and said “You probably aren’t going to Italy.”

I was sure he was overreacting. The rest of February passed with visits from Tbilisi friends and regular routines, but towards the end of the month the news out of Italy was grim. We were constantly checking the news, talking about the potential of canceling the trip, and feeling really sad about it. The first week of March, after the CDC raised the Italy travel warning to a Level 3, we canceled. It wasn’t that simple, because we had tickets for my parents, our tickets, car rentals, and our AirBnB reservation in Lucca. After what seemed like endless phone calls, tears, and time spent on hold, we were able to cancel and receive refunds for everything. We are thankful for that.

The ripple effects of this outbreak are beyond my comprehension. Every day I find a new thing I think is the “most” sad, in addition to the lives lost. High school seniors missing their last semester and graduation. Weddings canceled. Nursing home residents without visitors. People losing their jobs, unable to pay their bills. It’s all awful and really sad. And I know how incredibly lucky we are, but I’m still pretty sad about the ways it has impacted us.

I spent nearly every day in March worried about coronavirus, personally and professionally. It became a daily topic at work, and then it completely took over my workday. At home we worried about our own health and the medical care available in Egypt. On March 15, the State Department said that anyone at an overseas post who thought their health might be adversely impacted by staying at post could go on Authorized Departure. Authorized Departure is a type of evacuation where you have the option to stay or go. The next day the Egyptian government announced they would close their airport for 2 weeks starting March 19. JR and I barely had time to even consider whether we would want to take the AD. He was leaning towards it, and I was against it. I didn’t want to uproot everyone, I didn’t feel like I could make that decision and pack so quickly, and I didn’t want to leave my job. We talked it over and agreed to reevaluate and not make a rushed decision.

We spent the next several days discussing and going back and forth endlessly. There were many tears. We considered the quality of the health care, the ability to hunker down and practice social distancing, the challenge of keeping the kids away from other kids in our apartment complex, whether or not we could telework (luckily we are both able to), and many other considerations. I struggled with the idea of abandoning my responsibilities. My job description is literally to support the Embassy community, and it feels like when things got tough I left.

Ultimately, I agreed with JR that it would be best for us to make plans to leave when the airport reopened. We informed our supervisors and friends, and started packing. We had flights for April 1. We told the kids, which was in some ways easier and harder than I expected. They really just rolled right along with it, even as I explained we weren’t certain when we could leave because the airport was closed, we were leaving because of coronavirus, and we didn’t know how long we’d be gone. We told our nanny, and that was incredibly difficult.

As April 1 approached, we worried endlessly that the airport would not reopen. I also doubted our decision. Many of our good friends chose to stay. I wondered if we’d done the wrong thing, we were overreacting, were we putting ourselves at a greater risk by traveling and going to the US.

On March 25, the Prime Minister announced the airports would remain closed until April 15. That’s when I started to feel a little panicked. We knew we wanted to leave, but we were unsure when we could. The situation in America was only getting worse, but we still wanted to be in Ohio. There were rumors at work that we might have an opportunity for a special flight for Embassy employees and American citizens who were trying to leave Egypt, but no one knew when the flights would happen or how much notice we would have.

Our bags were strewn around the apartment in various stages of preparation. When we grocery shopped we didn’t know how much to buy. I felt overwhelmed daily. Of course, we were also trying to telework and do e-learning with Abby, while William and Jake were home. Our nanny was there but the kids knew we were there and would scream like banshees at our bedroom door for attention to complain about the most recent atrocity one had inflicted on the other. There is no office in our apartment, no desk, no space for working from home. We sat on our bed and worked side by side, and when JR had conference calls I worked from the floor of my closet.

If you have well-behaved children, if you are managing to telework and homeschool your children, if you start each day with a color-coded schedule and stick to it, cheers to you friends. Let me assure you that was NOT happening in our home. Also to those of you just trying to survive right now, cheers to you as well.

Last weekend we learned there would be flights available on April 1 and 3. We requested the 1st, quickly finished our packing, and finalized our plans to leave. After one VERY long travel day, which I’ll write about soon, we arrived safely in Ohio. The day we arrived Governor DeWine announced that all incoming people to the state of Ohio must self-isolate for 14 days. We had already planned to do just that at the farm house we are renting but it was one more sobering announcement.

Things here are much different than I anticipated, but we are incredibly grateful to be home.

 

 

 

 

Christmas in Cairo, Part Deux

Happy New Year! We had a really busy two weeks full of food, presents and family time. My mom arrived on the 21st and definitely made the most of her visit.

She brought some holiday cheer in the form of Christmas light necklaces, headbands, and one bag completely full of presents, crafts, and my Grandma’s famous peanut butter fudge.

She made crafts and tons of cookies with the kids.

       

We tried our best to get a decent photo of all three kids… It is what it is.

We marveled at the Christmas morning gift-opening aftermath and wondered where we would put ALL THAT STUFF. The size of our apartment already has us limiting the amount of toys that are out at one time and I had a toy-rotation even before the holidays began. So that continues to be challenge.

We took my mom around to the sites, visited a few pyramids, and Abby posed with another camel.

We played a lot of Guess Who?, which brought back some great childhood memories for me. Abby also received the game Outfoxed from her Aunt and Uncle in Kansas City, and it’s a really fun game for kids. Highly recommend.

Took my mom on a felucca ride on the Nile. The kids loved the ride but William was sad he didn’t see any crocodiles.

Didn’t want to let a whole holiday season pass with no snow, so we visited Ski Egypt, an indoor snowpark/skiing/tubing place at the Mall of Egypt.

Skiing in the desert. Go figure.

My mom constantly put JR and I to shame and gets an A plus for effort at all times. She even brought out some science experiments, including constructing and painting a volcano that they  “erupted“ outside the apartment.

JR and my mom took them to the Children’s Museum in Heliopolis. They learned about tombs, mummies (maybe a little too much detail on the mummies) and digging for artifacts.

We were really impressed with the ease in which my Mom became accustomed to Cairo. She downloaded Uber and WhatsApp and had no trouble making her way around our neighborhood. Which is amazing considering it took us months to feel at home.  She had several massages since she was, technically, on vacation.  She took Abby to the hair salon for blow outs, manicures, and they even went back a second time with William and both kids got haircuts. All in all, a pretty impressive showing by mom.

It really was so wonderful having her here and we can’t wait to see her again!

Christmas in Cairo, Part 1

I’m calling this part 1 in the strong hope it will force me to write a part 2 in a week or so. We’ll see.

This weekend we held our Embassy Christmas party, celebrated here as a Breakfast with Santa.  My office is in charge of the party so there was a lot of prep work and cajoling to find just the right Santa Claus. We had around 100 adults and 75 kids turn out for crafts, pancakes and eggs, cookie decorating, sending a letter to the North Pole, and of course a photo-op with the big man himself.

A really cool thing here is that Santa arrives to the party on a camel! I was pretty pumped about this. Abby came with me an hour early to help set up and we passed the camel sitting outside waiting for his grand entrance. He seemed grumpy but aren’t camels always grumpy? Anyway, I mentioned it to my coworker who informed me that the camel had diarrhea.

Yep, you read that right. Of all issues I expected to face in my professional career, camel IBS was not one of them. The handler walked him around for a bit to help settle his stomach, hosed him off, and we all hoped for the best.

Thankfully the camel rallied and delighted all the guests. Abby surprised me by wanting to sit on him alone and even having him stand up. These things are really tall and it’s not super smooth as they maneuver up and down, so I was a little nervous. William played true to self and was scared of both the camel and Santa. Jake just napped and took it all in like a pro, third kid style.

It was a fun – but exhausting – party. Definitely a highlight of our time here so far and new memories we will treasure.

Now the real countdown to Christmas is on. Nana arrives in a week!

 

Come Visit (but call first)

More than a month (!) has passed since my sister visited us in October. I’m terribly behind on blogging but determined to catch up.

Abby was over the moon to pick up her Aunt Jamie at the airport.

Having my sister here was just the motivation we needed to cross off some major bucket list items in Cairo.

First and foremost, the pyramids! There are signs that say please do not climb, but you try keeping kids off of them while listening to a long-winded tour guide in 90 degree weather. I thought the weather would be much cooler. I thought we should semi-color coordinate our clothes and take a nice family photo for potential Christmas cards (something I haven’t managed to pull off in about 5 years). I had a vision. I thought we should have Jake come for the first part and then it’d be easy enough to send him home with the nanny.

I thought a lot of things and they were all wrong.

BUT! The pyramids were really cool to see. JR, my sister and the big kids actually went underneath one of the smaller ones in what our guide called “an Egyptian sauna”. I was especially impressed by the Solar Boat, this massive wooden boat that was found buried beneath giant stone pieces in front of one of the pyramids. Ancient Egyptians believed this vessel would carry the pharaoh into the afterlife.

We took my sister on a felucca (small boat) ride on the Nile and let the kids tag along. I went back and forth on whether or not I was supposed to put them in life jackets (which we don’t own) or at least a puddle jumper for William. But I’ve never seen anyone, American or Egyptian, do that so we felt reasonably safe with our adult-to-child ratio and just went for it. I’m much more concerned about crocodiles, to be honest. Sure, everyone says there are no crocodiles in this part of the Nile but everyone knows that:

 

We spent a morning shopping for bargains at the Khan, and since my sister is a foodie, she was excited to sample the different cuisines and restaurants here. She was also the first member of our family to visit the Egyptian Museum. The rest of us are holding out for the opening of the brand new one, which will hopefully open in 2020 (read more here).

The week went by too quickly, as it always does, but we are so grateful for the time spent together. Come back soon, Aunt Jamie!

 

 

 

Slump and Stuff

I started a post last week about being in a pretty deep slump. And I wouldn’t say I’m out of it, just that I’m coping, or at least finding ways to cope better. There is a handy chart somewhere that shows the different phases of adjusting to life in a new place. Initial honeymoon phase, then a period of culture shock, then you slowly adjust. There’s more to it but that’s the general gist.

I probably experienced a similar feeling in Tbilisi but I either don’t remember it or I’ve subconsciously blocked it out, the way we don’t recall the worst parts of child birth or newborns. Because if we did remember how bad it was, why in the world would we ever sign up to do it again?! I know this just a normal part of things and that it will get better. Right?

Let’s focus on the positives. We got our stuff! Our HHE (household effects – 5400 pounds of toys, clothes, furniture and books) and our UAB (unaccompanied air shipment). Normally JR and I would have both been at home the day everything arrived, but I wasn’t able to take off so he coordinated the delivery. He sent me updates throughout the day. At first I was thinking, oh this is going pretty smoothly, and also I really lucked out not dealing with it all. Then the pictures started to give me intense anxiety.

This truck arrived with all of our worldly possessions.

Here come the boxes.

William was an excellent supervisor. 


I bet you are wondering, why did they pack so much food? Does it make sense to pack food that will sit in boxes and storage containers in 100+ degree temps for more than 4 months? Just know that I am wondering the same thing.

I also cracked up laughing when I opened the box that my former Tbilisi colleagues packed for me. They packed out my work desk and made sure to include 4 McDonalds ketchup packets. It’s the little things in life, you know?


Because everyone needs a cooler in your bedroom. 

 


JR was focused on the top priorities, which included immediately unpacking and displaying his Halloween decor.

 


He was also busy shaming me for a bit of over purchasing I did YEARS ago before we packed out for Kosovo and Georgia (I know you can relate, KBS!)

The anxiety only increased when I arrived home and basically walked into an episode of Hoarders. There was stuff everywhere. Every surface, almost every available floor space, I mean just everywhere. Our treadmill doesn’t fit anywhere except our living room. It’d be one thing if we used it for it’s actual purpose, but I like to use it for clothes and storage so having it in the living room is really quite inconvenient.

My first priority was making a path to the beds and clearing them off so everyone could sleep that night. After the kids were in bed, JR and I were working on our bedroom. I grabbed our duvet from the top of the dresser and turned to put it on the bed. This huge, heavy mirror that sits propped up against the wall on top of the dresser came crashing down, rebounding off the dresser and then slamming down on the floor. Not awesome.

Even worse, I had just set up these two acrylic jewelry holders I liked and placed my rings in them. The holders lay in pieces on the floor and my rings were scattered. We found two pretty quickly but my wedding band was missing. I was so upset. There were open boxes and piles of stuff everywhere. I was convinced we wouldn’t find it. Frustrated, I told JR I was going to sleep and we’d deal with more in the morning.

A few hours later during the night I woke up to a loud crash. I was convinced the mirror fell down again but when I turned on the light I couldn’t see that anything had happened. JR started looking around and opened his closet door to reveal that the entire shelf and hanging bar had collapsed in a pile on the ground. He looked at me and then just quickly shut the door and said, “that can wait until the morning.”

Over the next few days we made progress little by little, including finding my wedding band! While I wish we weren’t still hauling our gigantic living room furniture all over the world, it is so comfortable and it makes us feel like we are at home. The kids are playing happily with all of their toys and loving the playroom set up. Now that we are in an apartment we don’t have an obvious place for our outdoor toys, so all 37 of them are parked outside our front door and crowding the walkway. No doubt the neighbors are loving this and wondering who allowed the circus to move in. All we need is a few spare tires and a broken refrigerator to really complete the look.

Hopefully my sister doesn’t mind the mess because she arrives TOMORROW!