from 2014 to 2015

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2014 is behind us, and 2015 has started with fresh vigor. Happy New Year! I’m left with a couple in-between days of down time and a whole lot of feeling reflective…so back to the blog it is.

2014 started in Tanzania, and it will end in Tanzania—very. happily. so. It seems unfair to sum up the travels, experiences, sights, and sounds that I’ve come across this entire year (and especially to sum up those that occurred in the latter six months, where my posting on the blog was irregular, at best), but let’s try anyway, shall we? Consider this post my end-of-year letter that would have, twenty years ago, been mailed right to your door. Mambo from Africa!

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2014 marks the longest I have spent abroad without having gone back to the US. This is less a complaint and more of simply a cool fact, and also propelled by the fact that I know the end date to my expatriatism (which, Microsoft Word does not think expatriatism is a word, according to spellcheck).

2014 bent time and space, creating a weird time warp bubble that is simply every day life in Dar es Salaam. As I write this, I realize that my arrival in May 2013 seems ages ago, and that since my being home, babies that have been born and new jobs attained and relationships started and ended. Lots of new babies that I can’t wait to hug and kiss and smell their babyness (also, not a word)!

2014, though, was very much focused on my corner of the world (to me), and in this time warp bubble, things are all good. I was particularly bad at being in touch with friends this year, but like many things I blame it on the weird Dar space-time continuum. It took awhile to get to know and love my new home, but in the last several months I’ve really come around. What was hard is now easy, what was frustrating is now easily managed. The DiploMan may not be as smitten as I am in this place, but he is happy here, too. He is doing his suit-and-tie thing during the day (although at Embassy Dar, more like khaki-and-button-up), fighting the good fight. As just one of two Americans in his office, he still manages to take significant time off to travel and have fun, and not bring any work home with him or allow bureaucracy and Embassy dynamics skew his view of work and life. I envy him for these seemingly carefree qualities. Having a better grasp on work-life separation is one of my goals for 2015.

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2014 allowed us to call Dar home, and it’s been a good home indeed. Our equatorial setting means year-round weather ranging between the very pleasant 85-95 degrees F, with daylight a fairly constant 6am-6pm. It’s a blessing and a curse, for although I have become an avid ocean creature and my skin dewey in the above-average humidity, I do miss my sweaters and boots and coats and beanies and scarves.

2014 allowed me to experience small-town type living. I miss big-city living, but this small-community certainly has its rewards. In our second year here, we have come to meet some really great, inspiring, and true friends. Some have since left, but we know they are ones we will know forever. Like our first post in Guangzhou, where we met some of our best friends, I know we will continue many friendships long after we leave Dar.

2014 was a good year for work, too. Home, climate, and social life aside, I found good opportunities that allowed me to grow in confidence and abilities. For most of the first year, as I somewhat reported in this blog, I was freelancing and writing copy and articles for various small companies and magazines around the web and world. I got a few big jobs in Dar, editing a local city magazine, as well as writing press kits for a local fashion designer. I also had the very exciting pleasure to hone my photography skills on a variety of projects, including an intensive five-day commercial photo shoot for the first Tanzania-based fast food concept, Bongo Flava. I’ve since eaten at Bongo Flava more than I’d like to admit I eat fast food, but it really is very tasty, so I’m quite proud to have supported that project.

2014 capped off my freelance work with a part time job at the Embassy, as a CLO (for those of you familiar with FS-life) which was rewarding but all-consuming. As my freelance work dropped off and I found less time and energy to blog, I decided that I wanted to get back into media, communications, photography, and writing. I had planned to return to freelancing, but quite fortuitously, I was able to score a contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and work in their communications department, full time. I am thoroughly enjoying this work, as it feels it finally combines many of the skills I have learned in my decade-plus of seemingly scattered work.

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2014 brought me outside my comfort zone, not only in work, but in play. It shuttled me around to places I never imagined I would, like the Serengeti. I climbed volcanoes, trekked through forests, camped amidst wild animals, boated to remote islands, and in general, explored the grandeur that is the country of Tanzania–and beyond. I wish I had the time and the energy to write posts about each and every adventure—which I always intended, but never got around too. Perhaps they’ll stay stored in my memory and I’ll one day share. I actually do intend to.

2014 also invited a slew of friends and family in Dar to experience some of these majesties with me, including visits from my parents and my sister. The recaps and photos from these trips I’ve meant to share for some time, but again, it’s a matter of getting around to it.

And now, what lies ahead?

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2015 will bring the very best of my time in Tanzania, and then will close the chapter. With a departure date set sometime around May, it will be sad, but also a welcomed ending. I like it here in Dar, but I am looking forward to what is next. And frankly, this town is a bit small for me! So soon, we’ll be back in the US for some travels and time off, then spend some months of training in DC. After that, we’re heading back to China!

2015 and beyond is going to be crazy. China wasn’t the plan, but things often aren’t. This time we’ll be in the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, one of the greatest and most important cities in the world, both historically and contemporaneously. I can’t say I’m particularly excited, although I am very eager to live there. The recent bidding process for the DiploMan was a beast. High on our list were cities like Rangoon, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kiev, Bratislava, and Athens. The Diploman was very close in getting some of those (unfortunately, being a second choice isn’t quite the as consoling as one would think) and very distant in others, but the final offer was for Beijing and for that we’re pleased.

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So, on a very satisfied and positive note, I raise my coffee mug to the year 2015. Hopefully it includes a lot more blogging. And a new iPhone, which was gone along with 2014.

Christmas thoughts, after Christmas!

It’s been a little quiet around this blog lately. I’ve been wanting to write lots of updates about new finds around town and places I’ve visited and novel things I’ve done…But somehow these ideas for blog posts always seem to come up in the shower, or in the car, or other places where it’s not terribly convenient to start writing. And like everyone else, the usual end-of-year scurry to finish whatever work is left to finish, is combined with end-of-year holiday procrastination. Because I won’t lie, I’ve been occupying myself with things like cookie decorating parties, tree decorating parties, liver decorating parties…leaving myself no option but to say, I promise that next year will start off with a bang!

In the meantime, back here, my blog posts that I have written as of late have hinted at how it just doesn’t feel like Christmas around here. But then, all of a sudden, during these last few days in Dar I’ve felt a frenzy of Christmas spirit. And yesterday, Christmas Day, the roads near my house were quiet and sleepy, parking lots typically jam-packed were lonely and deserted, reminding me very much of Christmas back home.

Christmas in Nashville, 2012

Christmas in Nashville, 2012

 

As for our little family of two, the Diploman and I, rather than exchange gifts (we rarely do), we gifted ourselves the luxury of sleeping in. We went over to a friends’ and had a low-key but spot-on Christmas Day supper, starting at 2pm, complete with ham that was hand-carried from the States and where the DiploMan was called a “spot-on fellow” by one 70-some old woman. Leaving me very envious of old-timey speak.

Christmas in Guangzhou, 2010

Christmas in Guangzhou, 2010

We went out on a long long walk in the afternoon, since we’re dog sitting for two families, and Merry Christmas greetings were exchanged with each person we passed– no matter foreign or local. In the evening we skype’d our families–or whatever families were available, and then we gave ourselves our second Christmas gift of the day and ordered pizza. We’re very easy around here, as you can see. And after our pizza dinner, we cozied up in our living room for a Breaking Bad marathon, and in between episodes (when I wasn’t saying WHAT or OH MY GOD or THAT’s CUH-RASZZY!!) I spent some time reflecting on the day and thinking about how lovely and perfect and Christmas-y it all was, despite the lack of immediate family, despite the non-existant snow or cold, and despite the absence of any wrapping paper or visits from Santa. And then I thought, waitaminute, maybe I was the one not really feeling in Christmas spirits lately, because Christmas was definitely around yesterday.

Christmas in Tahoe, 2009

Christmas in Tahoe, 2009

When we have kids, we’ll most certainly do up the whole Christmas thing. We’ll figure out a Christmas tree situation, we’ll actually plan ahead to get gifts for one another, we’ll send out Christmas cards, and we’ll maybe organize some sort of Christmas party…maybe. But for this year, it’s been quite a pleasantly nice Christmas. Hope you had a good one too, wherever you are!

Hot Nights and Flying Zebras >> Christmas in the Summer

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At 6:49pm last night, I made sure to note the time. The sun had just set, so even though it wasn’t daylight anymore, there was still a lingering radiant blue glow to the sky. Think Prussian Blue, for all you oil painters and Lee Akamichi alumni. Six months ago, it would have already been dark by 6:30pm—I know this because that, too, was recorded. When you’re as close to the equator at I am, these details are ever-so minute, but they are ever-so documented. In the world of equatorial living, where weather, daylight, schedules, and thus life is very constant, I find myself looking to the little things to differentiate this time of year from others.

But in that short amount of time it took to process that runaway train of thought, about eight minutes later, that bright Prussian blue glow was gone. 7:00 is too early to be dark in the summertime, you know? But not to worry, it was still hot out, as if someone from above put a lid over us to keep the afternoon’s residual steam inside this big pot that is Dar es Salaam. Night hotness (and yes, I just made that term up)—it’s something that six years of East Coast living, two years of Guangzhou living, and six months of Dar living still has not acclimated me to. My year-round chilly-night California desert blood says, wait, I should throw on a hoodie! It gets me. Every. Single. Time.

Maybe, I thought last night, like the other night after a day-long rain storm (the first full day of rain since we arrived), we’ll get a swarm of locust-like creatures that hit our windows again. That was interesting. These insects, hitting so constantly and with such vigor that at first, to one unaccustomed to swarms of flying insects, I thought for sure it was raining again outside. A few managed to sneak into the house while I was doing dishes, meaning I promptly stopped all chores to arm myself with a curled up issue of last month’s Traveller as defense. Sorry, Conde Nast! (update 12/20: I found out recently these were not locusts, but termites! Termites, the size of my pinky!! GROSS!)

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This day-long, night-long perma-heat is something I’m still getting used to. Over here, we’re now into the winter months of November, December, January…even though people are calling this time of year summer, down here. Christmas in summer is bizarre, though. We have nowhere near the majestic and wintery snowfall that friends on the East Coast are experiencing right now, nor is it anything close the to the frigid cold spell that supposedly icing over Bay Area mornings. As most friends are sharing photos bundled up under chunky-knit pom-pom beanies and donning their LL Bean duck boots and draping magnificent faux furs over woolen sweaters, I just received my Black Friday purchase of beach dresses and tank tops. Thanksgiving dinner was eaten al fresco. Christmas decor around town has decidedly fewer snowflakes, less fake snow, and Santas are dressed far more casually—because in weather like this, who’d willing to wear that much fake-velvet clothing? At the Yacht Club, the rooftop is decorated with a sled pulled by zebra. Ha! Flying zebra! That’s one thing I can get down with during a summertime Christmas.

The dichotomy between my situation here, and the images that I’m being sent from home, serve as a reminder as to how big this world is. At this exact moment, while it’s blaringly sunny, hot and dusty outside, someone else (you, maybe?) is living the same moment, in a dark, cold and snowy city. It reminds me of how many different people are living their completely different lives, and how many more little nooks and crannies of the world I’ve got left to explore. Happy Holidays, to ALL indeed.

Merry Christmas!!

Juices

The DiploMan and I are spending our first Christmas together as a (small, albeit big with love awwww) family…and we’ve decided to go on a short 3-day juice cleanse. Crazy, yes. But much needed after this season of holiday dinner parties and cocktails. Plus we are absolutely OBSESSED with our new BlendTec blender we received as our early xmas present!!

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Wishing you and your family a very very Merry, Healthy, and Cleansing Christmas from DC!!

xoxo