27 April 2011

Please Sound Horn

One thing that Americans seem to have a hard time adjusting to overseas is all the horn-blowing, or horning, that goes on when you're driving. In the United States, we use turn signals. In other countries, you blow the horn to alert cars around you that you're doing something -- whether you're passing them, or you're warning them that they're too close to you, or you're approaching an intersection or corner and you want to alert other possible cars, bikes, autos, or pedestrians that you're coming. Many expats here tell their drivers to never use the horn. While all the horn blowing can be annoying, now that the horn in our car is broken, I can totally see the advantages of using it.

You'll see that most big trucks have "Please Sound Horn" painted across the back. Ritzy neighborhoods and gated communities have signs that read "No Horning" posted. That's how important the horn is to driving here. You have to let go of the fact that you're not in the United States anymore and you have to drive by the local rules. And don't take the horn blowing personally. The other driver isn't honking at you because you did something wrong, like cut them off. They are honking to let you know they are there, so please don't cut them off. It doesn't matter if you're on the correct side of the street. You have to assume that others won't be. Practically speaking, there is no correct side; you drive, walk, cycle wherever there's room for you to do so. As a courtesy, drivers horn to alert you all to clear out of the road.

A few days ago Mike came home and said we have a Little Miss Sunshine situation in our car, with the horn being stuck "on." Our driver disabled the horn, and then the rides out in town became really nerve-racking. At first I thought I'd enjoy the quiet, until we came to a blind corner, one where we'd usually tap the horn before approaching, and we couldn't do that. The suspense around every corner was starting to bug me more than the sound of the horn previously did. I think I'm a horning convert now. Sure, people should slow down and drive more orderly, but that's not going to happen any time soon.

Our driver has fooled with the horn a bit and it's letting out a squeak. The mechanic we usually see is back in the United States for an undetermined amount of time and apparently there's no one else our driver trusts to take the car to.

On a side note, I don't think our driver approves of the music we play for Muffin in the car. He's worked for expats with kids before, so he knows expat children's music and it's supposed to be nursery rhymes, not They Might Be Giants.

22 April 2011

Burundi's Biking Bananas!

A friend of ours has created a short film about bikes in Burundi. He and Mike ventured out many times together to trailblaze the mountain biking scene there -- at least, mountain biking as a leisure sport, not as a means of getting your cargo up and down the mountain. Joe's film was shown at the Filmed by Bike international film festival last week in Portland, Oregon.

Check it out! It's a nice little capsule of daily life in Burundi.

Joe's biking his way through Ghana now. You can follow him at his blog Going Ghana.

Slow Week in the Hills

It's been a slow week here. One of the highlights for me was finding fresh thyme at one of the grocery stores. Four trips out to the quarantine office and Ellie is now here not only in actuality, but legally as well. I bought Muffin some over-priced t-shirts and shorts from the British equivalent of Old Navy here because I was afraid that if I waited for mail-order from the actual Old Navy, she would have outgrown everything I ordered by the time it arrived. We saw the neighborhood Rolls Royce. We saw the hot-pink Mercedes that's owned by someone out in HITEC City. It's been too hot to go outside and have any fun.

Yup, exciting.We're in a summer slump I guess. I hope we can get out to the mountains in a few weeks for a short vacation. We need cooler temperatures and a change of scenery.

This Week

This week I also posted at What I Eat and Coffee Mommy.

14 April 2011

Ellie Is Here!

Our cat arrived last night after much stress. From the flakiness of the shipping company in the United States to the bureaucracy of the Indian government, this was the worst pet moving experience we've had so far.

Ellie has been living at my mom's house in Rhode Island. We realized that if she was going to join us, we had a narrow window of opportunity with the weather being neither too cold nor too warm for her to fly out of New England and too hot to land here (as it is, she can only land during nighttime temps here). To help ease the burden on myself and my mom, we used a shipper to make the flight arrangements. We will not be using this shipper again. He was a total flake. We started making inquiries weeks ago. Several times I asked him what documents he needed, no response. We finalized a date for Ellie to leave, but there were two flights on that day. Despite asking several times, he told us on Sunday which flight she was on, for Tuesday. I also asked him several times how to submit payment and he finally got around to telling us on Monday.

Also on the weekend, despite trying to get the ball rolling here in India a couple weeks earlier, we were told that pets can't arrive as unaccompanied cargo. A flurry of phone calls between the expeditor here and various customs officials gave us permission to send her as cargo, confirmed on Monday.

The previous Monday, Ellie was at the vet to get her health certificate. When my mom brought it in to the USDA office personally for the seal (an office is about an hour's drive from her), the USDA vet refused to accept Ellie's Burundian rabies vaccination. She would accept it if the Indian government agreed to accept it. So another flurry of phone calls, emails, scans, and Mike having to make a translation of the document from French got Ellie her USDA certification. (And just in time to be mailed back to my mom before the government shutdown closed the USDA office.)

An import permit was required, but between the shipper in the United States and the expeditor here, the conversation went something like this: "We need the air way bill number in order to process the import permit." "We need the import permit in order to complete the air way bill." "We can't provide the import permit until there's an air way bill." This went on for several nerve-wracking days before each side budged a little and we finally ended up with both, within just a couple hours of each other.

After all that, feeling confident that Ellie would get on the plane in Boston and be delivered here, we found out on Tuesday (the day she's leaving Boston) that the airport here doesn't process cargo on the midnight flights and Ellie would have to wait at the airport until the customs office opened in the morning. What? No one could have told us this weeks ago when we first proposed the flight times? When I specifically said that we'd like to bring her in on the Lufthansa flight that arrives at midnight and I asked if there are any times that the airport doesn't process pets? Really, no one could have mentioned it then?

My mom called early Wednesday our time to say that Ellie was on the plane, Tuesday night her time. At that point we still had no idea if we'd be able to spring her from the airport when her flight arrived Wednesday night, just before midnight. Our plan was that Mike would go out and meet the midnight flight, do his best to get her out, and if he couldn't, leave her with water, food, and a fresh towel in her cage, and I'd go back out Thursday morning to get her.

On Wednesday night, a couple hours before leaving for the airport, Mike received word that he'd be able to bring her home at midnight. All sorts of favors were called in and I'm sure we owe a few ourselves now.

But we have Ellie. She's already shaken off the travel and is settling in. I hope getting her out of the country will be easier. At least we'll have a better idea of what we're in for.

01 April 2011

Weekly SD Blog RoundUp!

Here it is! I'm taking my shot at hosting the roundup. It may not be as eloquent as some others, but hopefully I'll get all the information up accurately and efficiently. There's a lot of organization with this, keeping all those tabs and windows open! (And I'm keeping one eye on MLB scores. Red Sox play later tonight; Yankees already have a win.)

And all the while, I'm praying to Ganesh that the internet doesn't cut out and erase the whole post. Without further ado...

It's no April Fool's Day joke, I really did propose international bathrooms as the optional talking point this week. Quite a few of you took me up on that:
Nomads by Nature discussed the baseline we all set for ourselves. Has anyone gone lower than sharing the experience with chickens?

Kelly at Well, That Was Different, offers some valuable tips for using third-world bathrooms, including how to help the kiddos use them.

Among other things, Small Bits comments on how easy it is to clean some of the bathrooms overseas. If I'm ever building my own house, I'd love a completely tiled bathroom with a drain in the floor so you can just hose it down for easy cleaning.

Germophobe Kate from Pulling Up Stakes shares a domestic bathroom adventure.

Liz of Nick and Liz Go Global discusses the facilities in Kabul.

Connie at Whale Ears and Other Wonderings once saw a truck piled high with toilets in Cairo.

Ogles and Observations shares some nice photos from the oldest restaurant in South America. Check out the final photo for the air freshening method used in the men's room.

Shannon at Cyberbones discusses composting toilets, among other things.

Sunny at Fabling looked high and low for a particular photo, but she couldn't find it. In "loo" of that, she did share another amusing anecdote.
Almost forgot Sadie Abroad! Sorry 'bout that.

In other news this week...
Digger from Life After Jerusalem has made the trip to Estonia and back.

Daring Adventure dares to write about the parking problems at FSI.

A new A-100 class started this week and one of the specialist classes had their flag day. Congratulations and good luck to everyone!


If I missed anyone who requested to be included, please leave me a comment. I've been piecing this together throughout the day with spotty electricity and a little Muffin who likes to bang on keyboards rather than take naps. It can be distracting.

Daniela at Tuk & Tam is hosting next week with the theme "Best of" at post. Check out the calendar if you're interested in hosting.