(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Catch up Part 4 - Idaho

If it seems like we had a long trip to the US, we did. It’s not the kind of thing that I get on a regular basis. In fact it’s the longest vacation I’ve had since was teaching school in Switzerland many, many years ago.
There are a couple of reasons that this one happened. One is that I had a ton of vacation days that were accrued and needed to be used by the end of the fiscal year. Last year I ended up losing a couple of days because I never used them. Another reason was that I had a fairly difficult period in the months from January to May. Some of this was mentioned in this blog and the rest I’ll refrain from going into here. But I was encouraged to take a healthy break. Lastly, there was a strong chance that I was going to change positions/countries sometime later in the year and it was unlikely that I would be able to schedule a break in between.

So we were gone a long time.
Redfish Lake
The last leg of the trip was to Idaho to see my family. It’s a long way from Burundi in more ways than one. I had a number of objectives other than just visiting relatives. I needed to check on our house (rental), organize my belongings in storage (long story), various medical appointments, go to the bank, and so forth. It’s surprising the percentage of an expat’s vacation time that is spent doing things besides vacationing. It’s your one shot to do hundreds of things that you cannot do where you live, particularly if it is one of the poorest places on earth.
now that's a mountain
After a brief stopover in Boise we were off on a camping trip. That’s always a big priority for me – head to the mountains. Other than the need to run errands, I think I could spend my entire break there. I feel like it’s the only place that I can think clearly.
fishin' with John
Camping consisted of entertaining the girls, getting the reacquainted with getting really, really dirty. We spent our time swimming at the hot springs pool, eating copious amounts of food, sitting by the campfire, mountain biking (no bloody crashes for me this time), inhaling the occasional waft of forest fire smoke and various other things. I didn’t read nearly as much as I would have liked but it’s hard when you have snotty-nosed kids that are vying for your attention and rare time to hang out with family members. My brother flew in from Portland, which was nice, since we weren’t sure if we were going to see him.
the campfire
We were also able to stay at the former family cabin for a couple of nights (as a result of an unlikely encounter in Burundi a few years ago). It’s one of the highlights for given that a dream I have from childhood is to own a cabin in the mountains. As time goes by I figure that the dream is becoming increasingly unlikely but I at least can enjoy the thought.

Finally we also spent a considerable amount time in southern Idaho at my parents’ place. It’s one of the few places I can truly unwind. There is plenty of space. No traffic. Everything is relatively nearby. Surprisingly lots to do. Get to visit old friends. It will be interesting to see what happens once my parents don’t live there anymore. Will I still return there with no family living in the valley? Possibly not but who knows. My life has been rather unpredictable thus far. I’m not sure what the odds are for a kid with my background to do what I do for a living but me thinks they’re not great.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Catch up Part 3 - St. Paul

Normally when we go to the US we budget some time to stop to see our friend Kathy in Minnesota. Other than the enjoyment of just hanging out with her, there are other fun aspects to the visits. One is that she and the girls have become great friends as well. I think they truly enjoy these visits as much as we do. Another benefit is that Kathy leaves a stone’s throw from the Minneapolis airport. Not only does it make it easy, it is often a welcome break in travel, often coming directly from Africa. Unfortunately she often needs to deal with a brain-dead, jet-lagged family but we try to be as functional as possible.
This time the trip was wedged in between Indiana and Idaho, a welcome respite from those ubiquitous i-states. Unjet-lagged, we were not surprisingly more functional than our normal St. Paul selves. In spite of some rather wet weather, we hit the ground running. In the midst of a downpour we enjoyed the local historic carousel and visited the library. 
Later, after the weather cleared up we went to Ft. Snelling State Park to picnic by a small lake.
Though we didn’t visit the fort itself (there are mixed reviews about how entertaining that would be, even for history buffs), the fort does have an interesting history. It was originally built as a frontier outpost in the early 1800s and served various purposes up to the point of being post-WW II precursor to the Defense Language School, the US govt. language training facility that I know well which later moved to Monterey, CA.
swimming under the flight path

One interesting and sad story was the fort’s link to the famous slave Dred Scott. For those of you, like me, who forgot most of your high school history, Scott was purchased by John Emerson in St. Louis, Missouri, but he later worked and lived at Fort Snelling during much of the 1830s, having brought Dred and his wife Harriet Scott with him. The Missouri Compromise made slavery illegal in Minnesota Territory. Emerson took the Scotts back to Missouri, a slave state, where they sued for their freedom and that of their daughters because they had been held illegally in a free territory. A longstanding precedent of "once free, always free" was overturned in this case, and the US Supreme court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that African Americans had no standing under the constitution. Though legalized slavery was slowly dying (the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln less than six years later), Scott’s days were numbered as well. Soon after the trial Scott was deeded to another man who in turn set him free. Unfortunately he died of TB sixteen months after obtaining his freedom.
Eco-friendly Minnesotans use recycle bins for umbrellas

As I said the last time we visited St. Paul, the place has a lot to offer. In addition to eleven and a half months a year of snow and ice, it’s loaded with bike trails, microbreweries, outdoor activities, good restaurants, etc. If it had some mountains, we could discuss a mutual future. Alas, the state’s highest point is a measly 2,301 feet. The mean elevation in Idaho is about 5,000 feet. So it’s probably not going to happen.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Catch up Part 2 – Kentuckiana

After our visit to the Netherlands we headed west to America. We would land in Louisville with all of our bags, surprisingly. I felt the urge to wander over and greet the Lost Luggage lady just to say hi.
We were greeted warmly by family at the airport as usual and then it was off to get settled in to our new time zone. I should say that jetlag never proved to be a problem, neither traveling to the US nor upon our return (where it is generally more problematic).
feedin' time
The time in southern Indiana was restful and enjoyable. For some reason we escaped most of the intense heat that we usually experience there this time of year. It enabled us to spend much more time out of doors – key especially for the little ones.
Kinaya inspecting her victim cousin after a KO
We’ve traveled there enough that we have developed some enjoyable habitual activities. We feed the chickens and horses, do the bridge walk in Louisville, play at the water park, go to the YMCA and go to the local fair.
the Ohio River

This year we added a couple of things including a boat trip on a lake (for Priya’s mother’s birthday) and a trip to the Speed Museum.
I was told that Louisville has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the US. I can’t confirm that this is true but it could very well be. However I would suggest that the girth of some of those I saw on the sidewalks probably unrelated. Kentucky ranks #14 in adult obesity and it’s more likely a result of poor diet. In fact I have been quite impressed by the quality of Louisville’s restaurants since we’ve been visiting the city. The one critique that I have is that the serving sizes are generally excessive. It’s not just the case in Louisville but something we notice around the US.
Overall I’d say that the Louisville area is quite livable. Housing prices are still reasonable. It has four seasons, which I miss (though I’ve only experienced two of them). The city has a lot to offer. I’m not saying we’d ever move there but it is quite a nice place.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Catch up Part 1 - The Hague

Alright, I keep putting this off but I can’t any longer. It’s been almost 2 months since I posted anything and I need to get back into the flow. As is always the case, the more that is going on, the less I have time to write about it.

I’m currently back in Burundi. I wrote the last post not long before heading to the US for our vacation. You would think that while on vacation I’d have time for such things but it was not to be.
sun setting over the Congolese mountains as we depart
By the end of June we were off to the Netherlands. We had scheduled a stopover in The Hague to visit friends. We’ve done this several times and it’s always good – both to see them and to break up the trip to the States.
couldn't pass up the windmill photo
The weather in Holland was cool for this time of year. The Dutch definitely like to take advantage of summer to be out and about. Most have small or non-existent gardens so people generally hop on a bicycle and take advantage of the many green spaces. It’s so green and efficient that it’s almost surreal. You see people happily riding their bikes in front of old, beautiful windmills and you think that it’s a bit too postcardesque (yes, I made an adjective of postcard). Like this can’t be real.
hanging with friends
I love the Dutch. I found out yesterday on the BBC that they are officially the tallest people on the world. There are likely many reasons for this, including genetics, but it apparently has also to do with diet, health and healthcare. Yes, they ride bikes everywhere but the food has all the fatty things I love (cheeses, meats, beer, wine, etc.).  And they’re not shy about sweets either. Fitness + fats + sweets is the winning combination.
ahh the yummy Dutch food
We were able to see two sets of friends that we met during our time in Burundi. So nice to hang out and catch up with them. Though they’ve moved on with their lives from when they were in East Africa, you can sense that they do miss it. Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of good news to share about what’s going on. Nothing on the horizon to think that things might improve. As foreigners you can lament about the tribulations of the country but we can’t compare our sentiments with those of its citizens. It’s very sad and a striking contrast to life in the Netherlands.