Monday, October 16, 2017

Bienvenue au Cameroun!

View of Yaounde from Mount Febe

So the ATKs have arrived in Cameroon! Por fin! Also, I learned that Cameroon gets its name from the gigantic shrimp that you find here. Seriously, they are huge.

And after weeks in country, we finally got our internet hooked up so I can share my first impressions with you all.

1.) First, and this is a pre-Cameroon comment, the Brussels airport sequesters all travelers going to Africa in a section of the airport with, like, no restaurants or cafes. There's just a few vending machines. What really makes this galling is that you have to pass through immigration right before entering the area (though this wasn't entirely clear to me until we were at the guy passing through) and once you go through, you cannot leave. Again, no signs warning you of this. So we were trying to find our gate and then we were trapped for like 90 minutes. I never got my last cup of Starbucks. :( That's some shady shit, Brussels Airport. As far as I could see, while rushing through the airport, no other areas were sequestered like that.

But on to actual Cameroonian observations....

2.) Our house is nice. It has a sweet pool that is surprisingly deep. TotTK loves it. It is also surrounded by razor wire and has a 24 hour guard. Most people seem to think this should make us feel safe, which it does to an extent. But what it really does is make you feel like everything outside of the wall is incredibly dangerous. Of course, a month in now, we are realizing that we can indeed leave the house and not get mugged or whatever upon stepping foot outside the gate. And we've seen some interesting restaurants that look good. There's much to explore.

Enjoying the pool

3.) Oh. My. God. The hills in the city are crazy. Like, I thought Arlington, VA was hilly, but this place? I feel like I'm scaling a mountain every time I leave the house. And that's probably because I am. My Fitbit tells me I walk up the equivalent of 20 flights of stairs when I walk from my front door to the main road which is like three blocks up the hill. Looking on the bright side, my butt and thighs should be cut as hell by the time our three years here is up.

4.) This is not a very walk-able city, which has probably been the toughest thing to get used to. TotTK and I spent the last eight months hiking all over Arlington and D.C., checking out all the parks and playgrounds and artesanal doughnut shops. That does not seem to be in our future here in Yaounde. Besides the lack of artesanal doughnuts, which, don't cry for me, because what this city lacks in artesanal doughnuts, it makes up for in French bakeries, there are also no parks and very little green space. The crazy hills, lack of sidewalks, and seeming lack of consideration for pedestrians, makes walking around not a particularly pleasant experience. A stroller is basically useless, and because of the hills, putting TotTK in a carrier is also not very fun. This past weekend we tried a couple of journeys out with the ole baby carrier and while it worked, both TotTK and Mr. ATK were incredibly sweaty by journey's end. Like, "Did you fall in a large body of water?" sweaty.

So because of this, TotTK doesn't really get to leave the house all that much and that's a bummer. We go to the embassy on Sundays where a bunch of families gather and the kids play soccer and go swimming, so that's nice, but it's certainly not like it was back in the U.S. where he was playing with kids everyday at the Y or the park or baby gymnastics. I guess that's what the hardship pay is for. And eventually he'll be going to school so he'll get to play with kids there. So that's something, I guess. In the mean time, he'll have to make due with me and all the pillow forts and box houses he desires.

TotTK and one of his "houses"

5.) It's hot here, yet if you just tried to dress based on what you saw folks on the street wearing, you would have no idea what to wear. There will be a guy in a sweatsuit next to a guy in tank top. Mainly, I think, "Why on earth are you in a sweatsuit?"

6.) So many fresh fruits and vegetables! Delicious pineapples, avocados, mandarins, tomatoes as far as the eye can see! Mr. ATK can't stop raving about the peanuts and the eggs.  There are even two papaya trees in our yard! Sadly, I hate papaya.

So those are my first impressions. I reserve the right to revise my opinions, which I will probably do because first impressions are often wrong. Though I can't believe I'll revise my opinion on these damn hills. They are bananas.
Yaounde from the top of Mount Febe

Monday, July 17, 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017... A day that will live in infamy!

One of his elusive public tantrums! After his ride on the carousel ended.

So the terrible twos have arrived. And they arrived on Friday, April 21, 2017. It's weird that I can identify the day. I hadn't anticipated being able to pinpoint exactly when it would start, but lo and behold, it's like a switch flipped and my little baby turned into a willful tantrum throwing toddler. Also, I would just like to add that he was only 20 months old when this happened and so I feel slightly cheated as he was not two yet. I would have thought that I had four months of no tantrums ahead of me, but I would have been wrong. So very very wrong.

So how did I know they started, you ask? Surely I must be exaggerating? Perhaps, but it doesn't seem like exaggeration to me. Well, I pinpoint that day because it was the first day he threw a tantrum. Like a full on, red faced screaming, seemingly never ending, tantrum over something so ridiculously innocuous that I don't even remember what it was any more.  I believe wouldn't let him have a pouch right at that minute and a ten minute tantrum complete with pounding on the pantry door, hanging on the handle to try and open said pantry door. I remember being flabberghasted, like, "What the hell is happening?" And being torn between, "Well, this is just ridiculous" and "Oh my poor baby is so sad! I must comfort him." (FYI, the attempts at comfort were not well received. Unless I had an applesauce pouch to present to him, he was not interested in my so-called "comfort".) It took me a second to realize, "These are the Terrible Twos, aren't they?"

Since then, the Terrible Twos--and, again, I would like to point out that TotTK is not actually even two yet--have been aided by the acquisition of the words "No" and "Mine". And frankly, I don't think he even knows what "mine" means as he seems to use it as a substitute for "I want that thing you have" which often leads to the following conversation:

Me: No it's not. It's mine.
Me: No. MINE! You know what? Just gimme this. I'm putting it away.
TotTK: Anguished cries as if he were being stabbed multiple times.

It's a real mature, deep conversation.

In the 3 months since this new chapter has begun, it has certainly gotten a little more normalized. Like, it's just what toddlers do, right? Luckily, he generally is well behaved in public. There will be the occasional tantrum in a public place, mostly likely at a park that he does not want to leave, but those are exceedingly rare. That's good because, you know, it's kind of embarrassing when your kid has a melt down and there are witnesses, even if it's a pretty universal thing. But, on the other hand, it's like, he is so friendly and well-behaved in public that people don't (or didn't at the time) believe me if I mention that he throws tantrums. It's like I'm being gaslighted by my own son.

Of course, I don't want to come off as badmouthing my kid. I love the little booger, obviously, and I could certainly list all the hilarious and awesome new things that have cropped up in tandem with the tantrums, but then this would be way too long.*  Like, it's just so crazy. Everyone says to cherish "this time" because it goes so fast. But they say that about every time in a baby's/child's life. So it's basically just, "cherish everything all the time." And it does go by fast. Sometimes when I am trying to explain to him why he cannot just watch Dora the Explorer all day (or as he calls it, "Boots!") and he is crying and pointing at the t.v., I remember back to when he didn't do any of this. And then I remember back to when we first brought him home and Mr. ATK and I were like, "So when does he start to do stuff?" Now it's like, "Remember when he didn't do stuff? That was nice." So in someways, I guess you're always looking forward to the next milestone or achievement, and you're always looking back wistfully at the past. I suppose that is just what parenthood is.

And on that note, I'll leave you with a glimpse of TotTK's sillier side:

Also, he broke that popcorn bowl that he is scooting around in the video. That popcorn bowl was a gift from Best FriendTK many years ago, so that was sad. It was always a metal bowl, so it's really pretty impressive that he was able to bust it. Accentuate the positive and all that.

*Two words: Fist bumps. Two more words: For everyone. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

How I Spent my Washington Vacation

As I said in the previous post, the ATKs have had an enjoyable 7 months in our nation's capital, and then I preceded to talk about Russian class, which, while not awful, was not exactly a typical definition of "fun."  However, I was very excited to live in our nation's capital, or at least close to our nation's capital. Why? Because I'm a nerd and museums are free here.  So here's a list of the fun things we did while we were here.

1. New York! Start spreadin' the news, the ATKS are leavin' today...  We enjoyed two fun-filled weekends up the road a-ways in NYC. The Big Apple. Our first trip up to New York was to see Emma Thompson star in the NY Philharmonic's production of Sweeney Todd.  I found out about this in October back when we were in New Delhi and I had to get tickets right away. For a show that was going to happen in March. I love Sondheim and I love Emma Thompson so there was no question that this was a must see. I was skeptical that Thompson had the chops to pull off Mrs. Lovett, but I was pleasantly surprised.

We also went up to New York for a Russian field trip in May. Only instead of heading back to DC on the bus Friday evening, we stayed over and went to a show on Saturday. (We saw Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill starring that fantabulous Audra McDonald. It was excellent.) I'm sure you are wondering why we were in New York for a Russian field trip. Well, turns out Brighton Beach, Brooklyn has a huge Russian community. There are signs in Russian and everything. We even had lunch with a Ukrainian lady with whom we had to converse in Russian.  If you would like to learn more about Brighton Beach, watch this informative video: The Empire Takes Back

The Great American Past Time
2. Baseball! Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some... eh, you know the rest. Mr. ATK is a huge baseball fan and as such was very excited to be in the U.S. for baseball season. While Mr. ATK is a fan of the "gritty" Arizona Diamondbacks (who have blessedly fired their front office) and I support the scrappy (and decidedly less gritty) Milwaukee Brewers, the Washington Nationals were the only game in town, so they became our adopted team for the year. Nationals Park (or "Walgreens Park" as BFF-TK called it) is a lovely venue, though I couldn't help but compare it to my beloved Miller Park. Nationals Park has "fancier" fare, I suppose, including a gluten-free stand, a total vegetarian stand, a Shake Shack (with the longest line you will ever see), and a Peet's Coffee stand that always has an insane line (not as bad as the Shake Shack, though.) Who drinks coffee at a baseball game? East Coasters apparently.

We went to about 10 baseball games and it rained at every single one. Amazing odds. Oh, I take that back. We went to one game with MamaTK and AuntieTK at Camden Yards. It did not rain there. They also had fancy food. We had a hot dog topped with crab macaroni and cheese. It was a little underwhelming, but an A for effort as it was about the price of a plain old hot dog at Nationals Park.  Once you get used to those Washington/New York prices*, it's amazing how cheap everything in the rest of the country seems.

The ATKFriends visiting from WI. Yeah, we wear Brewers gears and drink Summer Sandy regardless of what teams are playing.

3. Cherry Blossoms
You hear so much about the cherry blossoms in D.C., and, well, to this Midwestern gal's eye, they did not disappoint. Downtown D.C. is so pretty when the trees are in bloom.  It seemed like from mid-March to mid-April we would head to the mall every weekend to see if they bloomed and in early April they did. I guess the blossoms in Tokyo are even more spectacular, but I have to say, I was very impressed with just how lovely the cherry blossoms are. Sadly, they only lasted a couple weeks until a thunderstorm with high winds ruined them.

4. Podcasts
I remember back when the earthquake in Chile happened back in graduate school, I went to see a professor for early morning office hours before 8:30 class started. He was like, "Did you see the news?" I was like, "What news?" Him: "There was a massive earthquake in Chile. You didn't hear anything about it this morning." Me: "Um, no. I watch reruns of Roseanne in the morning."

But it was right then and there that I thought, ATK, you should probably watch the news. Or read the news. Do something to keep yourself well informed! Dear Reader, you'll be happy to know that three years later I decided to heed my own advice and started listening to podcasts. Of course, I started mainly with podcasts talking about pop culture or music, but have since included news podcasts in. Sadly, I now rarely get to watch reruns of Roseanne.

2017 Addendum: It is likely that I had more than just a list of four things for this blog post way back when I started in in 2014, but I no longer remember what they were. I could perhaps add in a few numbers about how the ATKs are currently spending their Washington time:

  • Go to the YMCA
  • Go to the park
  • Go to story time at the library
  • Go to baby gymnastics (starting in March.) 
There's not really a whole lot to elaborate on there. 

* When PapaTK was visiting we went to the nearby Z Burger for shakes and decided to get onion rings as well.  PapaTK pulled out a 20 dollar bill to pay, only to be quite surprised when the total came to $22 dollars.  For two orders of onion rings and two shakes. They were large portions of onion rings, but still....

Friday, January 27, 2017

In Search of Pedro

So the TK family is back stateside. After a two month home leave visiting Mr. ATK's family on the west coast (Seattle, WA and Yuma, AZ) and my family in Wisconsin*, we arrived in our new digs in Arlington, VA to set up home while Mr. ATK studies French until August and we head out to Cameroon.

Anyways, so TotTK** and I are adjusting to our newfound days together as I am doing the stay at home thing. It has been enjoyable, but a little isolating as I do not know many people in the area and none with other littles for TotTK to play with during the day. The parks are pretty empty during working hours. On the recommendation of Mother-in-lawTK, we checked out the public library last week Friday and sure enough they have weekly story times for children under two so this will probably become a weekly engagement.

Well, on our way home from the library, which is maybe a mile or so from our apartment building, we came upon some construction that closed off the sidewalk.  This really shouldn't have been a surprise because it is right across the street from our apartment and TotTK loves watching the construction workers out of the window. Anyways, instead of doing the sensible thing and backtracking to a crosswalk I made three pretty dumb decisions:

  1. I decided to jaywalk.
  2. I decided to jog across the street without locking the front wheel of my jogging stroller, which the stroller warns you not to do in big red letters.
  3. I did not check to make sure that the front wheel was securely attached. (Though, this I should have done before leaving the house in the first place. Also the stroller says to do this in bright red letters as well.)
So as I'm jogging across the street, there are no cars (I'm not that dumb) but there is a median, so I need to be the left lane a few feet in order to get to the break in the median. Welp, while I am in this left lane of traffic (again, there were no cars at the time) the front wheel turns and falls off, so the stroller crashes and tips over and I fall over the stroller and eat shit on the pavement. By this time the light a few blocks back had turned green and so now there were cars. Happily they did not run us over. Instead, the first car stopped and a nice lady came running over to make sure we were okay. Which we are. TotTK was strapped in good. He was scared a bit, but didn't hurt himself at all. I had several bumps and bruises but nothing major, except total embarrassment at my terrible decision making. The lady helped me move the stroller into the median so I could put the wheel back on and after assuring her many times that we were both okay, she got back in her car and left. 

As I'm trying to put the wheel back on, I realize the u-shaped thingymabob that holds the wheel on is bent and I can't get it on. So I'm kneeling in the dirt trying to bend it back when a guy from the construction site comes over and asks if I need help. I show him the bent frame and tell him I can't get the wheel on and he's like, "Oh, I can fix this. I have tools in my truck. It's right over there."

So he carries the stroller across the street, gets to work, and in, like, five minutes the whole thing is as good as new. I thanked him profusely, and learned his name was Pedro, he was originally from El Salvador but immigrated to America 20 years ago and has been working in construction, and, in fact, even worked on the apartment building where we are now living.

Later in the day, as the bruises on my legs were really filling in, I started thinking that I should do something nice for Pedro. The more I though about it, the more I was thinking how truly nice it was for this complete stranger to come and help me.  I feel everything on the news and whatnot is so negative and we are so polarized, you forget that people are still people and can be genuinely kind. So I decided to make him some chocolate chip cookies. So over the weekend I made a double batch of cookies and on Monday set out to deliver said cookies.

I head over to the construction site and approach two guys, one tall white man an one short Latino, and ask if they are working on the building. The white guy was like, "Yeah you could say that." (Not sure if he was the boss or something, his vest was a different color then the guys that were working.) So I tell them I'm looking for Pedro and they are like, "Do you know his last name?" And I'm like, "No." And the white guy is like, "Eh, there are a lot of Pedros here." The Latino guy chimes in, "You might as well be looking for a Jose or a Carlos." So I tell them my big long story about why I'm looking for him and the white guy is like, "Hmm...what did he look like?" and there is a beat as I'm thinking how to describe him, and then they both laugh and are like, "Never mind." They said due to the holiday (it was MLK Day) it was possible that Pedro wasn't working and I should try the next day. They did say they would put the word out and I was like, "Yes, please let all the Pedros know someone has cookies for whichever one helped the lady with baby and the broken stroller on Friday."

Tuesday morning arrives and I head back out to the construction site. This time I pass Pedro's truck on my way so I know he's there. I walk up to a guy on the edge of the site and telling him I am looking for the Pedro that owns that red Toyota Tacoma over there. The guy is like, "Oh yeah. I know him. He's definitely here today." So I launch into my big story and point to the cookies, I guess expecting Pedro to just sort of appear. They guy is like, "Well, he could be anywhere, " and gestures to the building and it was only then that I was like, "Oh yeah, this building is huge." It's like a full block. The man offers to take the cookies, and I'm like, "Eh..." So he's like, "Well, you could put them in the back of his truck. If I see him, I'll let him know you were looking."

So, I put them in the truck and since I had figured I would just hand them to him, I did not have a thank you note or anything written. I wonder if he found them (I put them under the oilcloth he had back there since it was raining. They were in a plastic container, of course, but still.) I hope he did. I really hope they didn't go flying out of the back of his truck on the freeway or something and cause a big accident on the interstate. I think a cookie induced multi-care pile up on the reeway would have made the news, though, so I'll just assume he got them.

Anyways, TotTK and I pass that construction site a lot on our daily walks to the park so hopefully one day we will run into Pedro again to say thanks and show him how well the stroller is working. We'll see. We have another eight months to find him in person...

*Good god, I have decided I never need to spend December in Wisconsin again, Christmas be damned. I just... the weather is too horrible.

**I mean, I can't really call him BabyTK any more. Maybe LittleTK? Eh, I'll figure something out.