After weeks of impatiently waiting for our household effects (HHE) to arrive, we got to the point of patiently waiting, and then we started to think the shipment would never come and we told ourselves to just be okay with that. Best to temper expectations as you never know how quickly things will clear customs, right? Well, it actually did arrive. Our HHE crossed an ocean and part of a continent and arrived at our door on the other side of the world. And after all that, rather than celebrate having all our stuff, the only thing I could think is, “Why do we have so much junk?! How did we accumulate all of this??” We weren’t even close to our 7,200 pound allowance and it still seemed that a ludicrous amount of stuff had arrived. With the exception of a few things I needed for the kids, I hadn’t even missed any of it. I had forgotten about most of it. It was the opposite of our reaction to the UAB (700 lb air shipment). I don’t wish to sound ungrateful- we are so grateful that we are able to make a house feel like a home on the other side of this planet, but it was a point of realization for me. If my little family of four is together, we really don’t need all of the excess stuff. The past few months have been like going back to Danny and my first few years of marriage when we lived out of just a couple of backpacks. Everything we owned could be carted around on our backs. It’s always a good reminder- this life isn’t about stuff. It’s about people. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to cut this short- there’s a sale at IKEA that I simply can’t miss.
The Бабушки (babushkas) or grandmothers in Russia are no joke. They rule this place. I’ve learned to dress my children warm enough to avoid the public scoldings I incurred when we first arrived. They both hate it but I’d actually rather listen to my children cry than be shamed every time I set foot outside my door. I recently forgot my baby carrier when we left the house and our double stroller hasn’t yet arrived (we anxiously await the arrival of our household effects or HHE for short). So what to do? Shove them both in the same stroller of course! I figured it was a win-win: I didn’t have to carry anyone and they’d be so warm in the stroller bag that surely I might even get a smile out of one of the babushkas. Right? Wrong. A few of the younger Russians thought the arrangement was kinda funny but the grannies’ disapproval was out in full force. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because the baby couldn’t move her arms, though that was due to the snow suit, not the seating arrangement. Maybe it was because they looked a bit precarious. But I assure you, they were crammed in like sardines and not going anywhere. Or perhaps it was because I’d left a couple inches of her face skin exposed. At any rate, it worked so well that I did it again another day and decided that I’ll seek babushka approval another time.
We’ve given ourselves sports lag. It’s the circadian confusion that occurs when one lives overseas and wakes up at 4am to watch football games. Sports lag is particularly bad when living in northern climates in winter where the sun doesn’t rise until 10am and sets at 4:30pm. The human body stands almost no chance of escaping sports lag. When one’s team wins (GO SEAHAWKS!), the sports lag doesn’t irritate one’s mood to a significant degree. However, when one’s team loses (we still love you Oregon), emotional and mental stability are likely to plummet compounding the already disturbing effects of sleep cycle confusion.
Many of you ended your holiday celebrations weeks ago but for Russia, today is the last day before the country goes back to business as usual. Russians don’t celebrate December 25th as the main event like we do in the States. Rather, they use the Russian Orthodox calendar and celebrate Christmas in January. New Years is the biggest holiday of all and from December 31-January 12, the country is mostly shut down as everyone visits loved ones and, for the most part, hunker down indoors away from the cold. The Embassy is closed for both US and Russian holidays which has been great fun for our family. We took advantage of the empty roads (which are normally clogged with the worst traffic on earth) and explored the city. Over the holidays we also attended several parties hosted by the Embassy, pre-school, and the community we live in. There are some Christmas/New Years characters in Russian tradition that we aren’t familiar with. Rather than Santa, they have Дед Мороз (Ded Moroz, or in English, “Father Frost”) who is often accompanied by his granddaughter, Снегурочка,(Snegurochka or “Snow Maiden”). These two seem reasonable but also in attendance at the celebrations are a neon duck, bunny, fox and a few animals that I couldn’t identify. It’s confusing and strange and one of my favorite parts of living overseas. I thoroughly enjoy the feeling of complete bewilderment as I observe traditions and ceremonies that are fantastical and unexplainable to me but obviously familiar to my host country. It makes me try to view our own traditions from the perspective of an outsider.
The children also took turns using long cloth hands to try and knock hats off one another. Danny was pulled in to compete against another father in a “Big Man” round. He lost decidedly. 🙂 The best part of the day was absolutely the mulled wine. We need more mulled wine during holiday parties in the U.S. Between all the days off and the mulled wine, we are quickly coming on board with some of the more European aspects of life!
I’ve read a lot of other Foreign Service blogs and it’s quite apparent that the UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) is not only a treasured delivery but an event in and of itself. We experienced our very first UAB event just before Christmas and it was every bit as exciting as we’d heard. For those not familiar with living abroad with the US Gov, each family receives the bulk of their stuff a few months after arrival in a new country. This comes in the form of the Household Effects (HHE) shipment which travels via slow boat. But about 3 weeks after arrival, you get an air shipment (700lbs for a family of four) and it is awesome. Living in a place furnished like a rather plain hotel (orange-ish couches and granny-style tables), bleak white walls, and using dull “welcome kit” kitchen knives like ice picks to try and chip away pieces of beets, carrots, and potatoes is great and all….but you can see how a few of your own belongings would be welcome. Our own towels that don’t exfoliate the better portion of your skin, sheets that don’t scrape you awake every time you roll over….luxuries. I’m being overly dramatic (except about the knives), but the arrival of the UAB really was great. I learned a few things for next time:
- Calculate out 3 months from your arrival and ask yourself what you’ll need before that. It sounds obvious and it should be but when you’ve just had a baby and are trying to organize life to move overseas, obvious things aren’t always so obvious. I packed enough diapers for like a week. A WEEK. That made no sense. Also, our sled, long underwear, door mat, and shoe rack will all arrive after the snow starts to subside…. oops.
- Bring a knife and cutting board in your checked luggage. Seriously. Ice picking your way through root vegetables is not only frustrating, it’s dangerous.
- Just because you can bring 8 checked bags and 8 carry on items doesn’t mean you should. When 50% of your family is too small to carry their own stuff through the airport, it’s better to reprioritize what you need. I didn’t write about it but we were a real gong show in the airports.
- One towel per person is probably enough in the UAB. I packed about 20. And hardly any diapers. Ugh- or deodorant. I bought some here to get by but I currently smell like a teenage boy who doused himself in too much aftershave.
One of the best things about living overseas for us has always been exploring the grocery stores. A mundane weekly task is new and exciting in a foreign country. Of course you have to rely on limited language skills, pictures on packages, and sometimes you just have to take a gamble on your purchases. Danny found a great sausage last week and we were hoping to recreate the same dinner this week. He found a package that looked different but he was in a hurry so even though he couldn’t remember what колбаса языкa meant, he purchased it. That night we had our sausage and mustard meal on some fresh bread and though neither of us said anything, we only ate about half of what we normally would due to the extremely soft texture of the sausage. Later Danny remembered that язык (Yazeek) means “language.” So Kielbasa Yazeeka would mean…..tongue sausage…..yeah.
We made it! We survived the packout of our house and the long flight to the other side of the world with our two tiny humans. After almost two weeks without internet, we are finally connected to the world again and so I can begin blogging about our second round of life in Moscow. It’s been about 7 years since we were here last time and though we’ve only just arrived, our experience is already vastly different. We were very poor students living with a Russian family before and now we’re in house all to ourselves and we’ve doubled in size. We’re excited to be back and what’s even more exciting is that we will be able to afford groceries this time and even a meal out from time to time 🙂 Some bullet points to catch up on the past two weeks:
- I used to have a baby that slept through the night. Jet lag is the worst!
- The three year old is an absolute mess. The poor thing just is not transitioning well and has had some pretty major meltdowns when we’ve tried to venture out on the metro so we’re a bit housebound for now until we get a car and/or her sorted out.
- Russians dress their children SUPER warm and even if there isn’t snow on the ground, snow pants are required (along with a coat, snow boots, scarf, hat, mittens). They won’t hesitate to tell you that your child is woefully underdressed. In the span of one block, three different women tried to put the hood on my toddler’s head and 3 or 4 others made comments. I told one man who made a comment about her not having a hat, “Ne hochet” which means that she doesn’t want it. He laughed and said incredulously “Ne hochet??!!” as if it should even be an option. Some Americans struggle with the communal child rearing but I actually find it kinda nice. We will work on getting her to wear gloves and hats if only to avoid the social shaming 🙂
- The Embassy is big and well staffed. I know that we’re lucky to have a lot of great resources available to us. We’ve already been to see the doctor for the toddler’s asthma and received really good care.
- We put our oldest in a Montessorie pre-school a couple days a week. It’s an interesting approach to education and one little girl got up early from quiet time and said to her teacher, “The other teacher told me I’m supposed to be quiet and think.” And the teacher said, “Yes, you need to sit and think. Think about why you are here.” Ummmmmnnnnn….that kid probably doesn’t use the toilet by herself and you want her to contemplate why she is in this life?! Anyway, the socialization should be good. 🙂
Poka- that means see you soon.