I’m not much of a DIYer. I want to be; I’ve wanted to be one for a long time. In Kyrgyzstan, it seemed too daunting, so I silently pined away for a life located near a Hobby Lobby or Joann’s fabric store, filing away all of the DIY projects of my dreams. One day I’ll get to all of them.

Ghent isn’t exactly my dream DIY location (not yet, at least), but then again, I had expected that after Bishkek, we’d move back to the US. Even though we’re not in the US, I decided I don’t want to keep putting off my DIY goals. It’s time to do stuff, and do it myself!

First up, a Learning Tower for Darwin. A learning tower is a Montessori thing that is a glorified step stool with a protective rail around it, so Darwin can reach the counter like an independent little adult, rather than cling to my calves and flail around on the floor (screaming) while I make dinner. From these two websites I looked it, the project looked as easy as buying a cheap Ikea step stool and attaching a few pieces of wood to it.

Umm. It wasn’t quite that easy. If you already have a power drill, if you might happen to have some scrap wood laying around, if you already have an established area of your house where you can safely use sharp tools, then yes. This is a pretty simple and cheap alternative to buying a $200 pre-assembled tower. For us, we had to buy and borrow a bunch of tools, but we didn’t want to go overboard buying expensive tools that we weren’t sure how much use they’d get. For example, we ended up buying a cheap saw and plastic miter that were difficult to use and made crooked cuts, but eventually it all worked out. I’m sure there was a more effective way to do many of these steps, but we didn’t want to spend so much money upfront. I’d say all-in-all, we spent around 100 euros, but now we have a small arsenal of tools and wood scraps that can be used on future projects.

Here’s how we did it.

First, we unscrewed the top step from the Bekvam stool and put the screws somewhere we wouldn’t lose them.

We bought three pieces of wood: one squarish (34x44mm in our case) and one flatter, thinner rectangle (18x92mm), plus a wooden dowel with a 12mm diameter.

Farrell cut four 430mm-sized pieces from the squarish wood. These are the posts that attach directly to the top of the Bekvam stool. Farrell drilled pilot holes before drilling any screws in place to prevent splitting the wood.

As you can see, we’re an Ikea-loving family, as Farrell clamped the top of the stool to our Ikea coffee table to drill the pilot holes. If you use a square piece of wood for the posts, then this isn’t necessary, but otherwise check to make sure the posts are all facing the same way. In our case, the longer sides of the posts run parallel to the shorter sides of the steps (if that makes sense).

Farrell used two screws for each post. This wasn’t an obvious thing for me, so I hope it’s worth mentioning for someone else’s sake.

Next, using the remaining length of the squarish wood, Farrell cut two pieces measuring 154mm (which is the length of the short side of the stool, 242mm, minus the length of the two posts, 44mm and 44mm). Then he measured about halfway up the posts, drilled pilot holes and screwed these short posts into place as side guards. (In the photo above, the blocks are stabilizing the posts while he drills the pilot holes, you can see where they ended up in the final photos.)

Next, using a 12mm drill bit, Farrell drilled holes about 3mm from the tops of the posts on the front of the tower (the same side as the steps). He cut a piece of the dowel equal to the long side of the stool, 360mm, and slid it through the holes. He sanded the holes because they were a bit rough. The holes were not perfectly aligned either, so he had to widen one of the holes so the dowel would reach through. In the end, it’s pretty snug.

Now, using the flat, rectangular piece of wood, Farrell cut two pieces that are equal to the long side of the stool, 360mm, drilled pilot holes and screwed those onto the posts to serve as back guards along the top and halfway up the back of the tower (check out the final photos for the placement, we considered skipping the second piece, but went back later to screw it on because the space looked so huge otherwise).

Using the remaining length of the flat, rectangular piece, Farrell cut two pieces that measured 260mm, which is equal to the short side of the stool plus the width of the wood that’s already attached to the top posts (242mm + 18mm in our case). Then he drilled pilot holes and screwed these two pieces on so that they cover the holes for the dowel, keeping the dowel in place, and make a nice, neat corner with that back guard.

Ta-da!

The only thing that’s left to do is sand down any rough edges and reattach the step to the rest of the stool. I might like to paint the whole thing one day, but I’ll save that for project for later.

Darwin loves it! He has access to a whole new level of our house now. It took him about a day to get used to climbing up and down, and sometimes he gets a bit freaked out and will yell, so I’ll stand close enough to be nearby (but far enough so he can’t reach me) and talk him through how to get down (“put your hand here, bring your foot down here,” etc). Sure, it means we have to be mindful of what’s within his reach when he’s up at the counter with us, but I’m hopeful that he’ll figure out what he can and can’t touch pretty quickly and focus on his own little activities in the kitchen. Who knows, maybe soon I’ll be able to move the tower in front of the sink and have him do the dishes for me.

Also, you may have noticed that Farrell did a full 100% of the physical work for this project. What a man! Dad of the Year, Husband of my Dreams, that’s all I can say. But next time, maybe I should find a do-it-myself project that I can actually do myself.

{ 4 comments }

Kyrgyz Music Friday is a (now defunct) weekly feature in which I post a pop music video from an artist in Kyrgyzstan. It could be catchy, annoying, funny, insightful, brilliant, awful, or anything in between. It’s what’s playing on the radio, what all the cool kids are listening to these days. Kyrgyz Music Friday is not trying to appeal to your musical taste (which I’m sure is awesome), but simply gives you a glimpse into how pop music is done on this side of the world. Feel free to share your thoughts on this week’s video in the comment section!

Just in case you haven’t been keeping up with Kyrgyzstan’s pop music scene on your own, here are a few new(ish) videos you may have missed.

First up, “Tamchi Deniz” (Drops Make an Ocean) featuring a packed ensemble of stars: Mirbek Atabekov, Nurbek Savitahunov, Gulzada, Saltanat, and two new-to-me singers, Darkhan and Ayana. Turn on the captions for the English translation of the lyrics. It’s a nice little patriotic song with some stunning views of Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan’s beautiful landscapes. Two things though; where does Nurbek disappear to at the end of the video? And why were there no shots of Issyk Kul!?

Next up, a new video from Eholami! “Yadernaya Zima” (Nuclear Winter) is by far their best video and I’m so proud of them! It’s a sad song, but with a bit of sass. Not depressing, a bit mournful, with little nostalgic glimpses of summery poppy fields. Although, I could do with a bit less electric guitar and could listen to that guy play piano all day.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, I’ve been slowly recovering from the flu. Karma for bad-mouthing February, perhaps? I hope to be outside, enjoying the springtime sunshine, and back to writing more than a few sentences before taking a nap, pretty soon though.

{ 0 comments }

Dear February

March 2, 2014 · 11 comments

in ramblings

Let’s break up. We’re just not compatible. I was lured to you under an illusion of progressing further into 2014; the only direction for us is up, I thought. But it was a lie. You’re wedged between the depths of winter and the promise of spring, but, let’s face it, that’s the worst place to be.

You’re dark and rainy, cold and miserable.

I feel like I owe an apology to Bishkek, who I’ve always complained about in February. It turns out, it’s not Bishkek, it’s you. Here we are in Ghent and the doldrums still linger. Winter has gone on for too long. The newness of the new year has worn off, resolutions have been cast aside, and now we’re in February, just waiting to get you over with.

It sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’m stuck in your fog.

There’s a slog to you, February, a staleness that directly contradicts all that I had wanted 2014 to be, the motivation I was sure I could maintain. Maybe there’s an expiration date on January’s resolutions, an invisible limit that runs out at 23:59, 31/1/2014 (see what I did there? I’m really European). Right at the next moment, February, you were there to remind me that nope, there are still obstacles to my grand 2014 plans. Nope, February says, you can receive your national ID, but there’s a chance that Brussels will deny your visa in six months. Nope, you can find a school for Darwin, but it will take six weeks before he can start. Nope, he can start sooner, but he gets sick on his first day and has to stay home all week. “Your plans are nice and all, your ideas and ambitions are admirable. But I’m February, and I suck.”

Some nerve you have.

I was determined to make the best of it, like taking a walk on one of your many grey, dreary days. But you decided a rainstorm was appropriate as soon as we left the house.

We had to hide under the bridge with the legal-graffiti wall until it slowed down.

I guess it’s a good thing that you’re shorter than the rest of them, February. I couldn’t stand even one more day of this (and what punishment that we even have that extra day every four years), so thank goodness March has already stepped up to replace you.

So what will I do without you, February? Clear my head and get back on track. Spring is closer than ever and I’m ready for time to keep moving along. Life was pretty dull with you around, February, but the best of 2014, and the best of Kirstin, is yet to come.

It’s a shame that you won’t be around to experience it, because I’m sure I’ll be awesome. Darwin will go to school on a regular basis, I’m already making kilometers of progress on my (previously non-existent) video-editing skills, by which I mean, I watched a Youtube tutorial and opened Final Cut Pro and slapped together some clips before realizing that I probably should find music first. Is that how it works?

I don’t even know, but whatever. This isn’t about that, February.

Let’s end this now; it’s not me, it’s you. Maybe next year we can try to see each other on better terms, but for now, get out of my face. Bring it on, spring.

Smooches,

Kirstin

{ 11 comments }

Farrell’s commute (which I do not envy at all) involves two bikes, a train, and about 3 hours total every day. He rides a bike from our house to a train station, catches a train to Bruges, then rides a second bike to his office at the far side of the town (beyond the cute and charming part, if you can believe it exists). With all the bike riding, he gets sweaty, so he packs his work clothes with him to change into when he gets to the office.

But Farrell can be a bit absent-minded sometimes, especially on Mondays, when the lull of a lazy weekend hasn’t quite snapped him back into his weekday routine. Sometimes he forgets his work clothes.

Cue Darwin and me to the rescue. One day, Farrell had important meetings scheduled and was only decked out in a sweaty old t-shirt. Since Darwin didn’t have anything pressing on his schedule, we headed out on an epic journey of public transportation. I present to you a blog post made up entirely of phone pictures (when juggling a giant toddler and a bag of clothes in the rain and crossing many streets, a DSLR is not in the cards), mostly selfies. So, you’ve been warned.

First, we walk across the silliest, most crooked, “no, seriously, this is really something I’m supposed to walk across?” bridge to get to a bus stop on the other side of the river.
brugestrip17
We wait patiently. It’s raining.

Bus stop selfie!
brugestrip16
(The first of many.)

Our route was bus-train-bus-repeat, but we could’ve also taken a bus that goes straight to Bruges. I write this as if it were a legitimate option, but really, that bus takes three hours in one direction, while the train takes about 30-40 minutes. No brainer, but it was a coincidence to see the Bruges bus patiently waiting there right as we arrived at the train station.
brugestrip15

We arrived a bit early and the platform was packed with commuters heading to Brussels.
brugestrip1

So we waited.
brugestrip9

And waited.
brugestrip8

And waited for our train to arrive.
brugestrip7

The train was fairly empty, so we had an entire section of seats to ourselves.
brugestrip6

(He’s spying on a group of hipsters with packs of cookies across the aisle.)
brugestrip5

We’re sort of sight-seeing in Bruges. Look! Off in the distance is some sort of medieval-looking tower… thing. How charming and historic, now we’re off to find another bus.
brugestrip4

The incredibly not-charming industrial park where Farrell’s office is. Because it was raining, the clothing hand-off was short and sweet.
brugestrip3

Another bus stop selfie.
brugestrip14

“Hey Darwin, did we see Daddy?” “Daddy! Daddy!” and then he started waving.
brugestrip13

Even though we just had to get on the same exact bus that dropped us off (we were at the end of the route and just had to circle back), the bus driver made us wait at the bus stop across the street for 10 minutes. In the rain.
brugestrip12

Taking the train back to Ghent.
brugestrip11

Lovely scenery! There probably were better scenes to capture, but I had to wrangle a wriggly toddler.
brugestrip2

I had woken Darwin up early from his morning nap, so I wasn’t surprised when on the final bus ride, just minutes away from our stop, he finally passed out.
brugestrip10

From now on, Farrell keeps an extra set of work clothes at his office. If we decide to go visit him at work, we’ll pick a nicer day to do so.

{ 4 comments }

After nearly four months in Ghent, I think I have a pretty good idea for what’s available food-wise and what, sadly, is not. It’s not quite the food-wonderland I imagined it would be back when we first found out we would move here, but there are lots of things for our bellies to be happy about.

First, some positives. Good cheese, good chocolate, good bread, good frites. The grocery store I go to most regularly always seems to have kale, which is such a beautiful thing. There are usually avocados, but since it’s winter, they’re terrible right now. I can deal with that.

Some other things I’ve noticed that will take some getting used to are the types of produce available. There are a lot more leeks and witloof here compared to the US or Bishkek. In the US, a “witloof” is called a Belgian endive, not just “endive” like I had previously thought. It turns out that an endive is an entirely different leafy, green thing. I had cooked with leeks before in the US, but I get the impression that they’re used a lot more commonly here (or in Europe in general). Is there some wacky obsession with potatoes that I was previously unaware of? Bags of potatoes (of which there are many many varieties) are clearly labeled with their appropriate usage and defining characteristics. I usually just grab any bag within reach.

There is always rabbit for sale at my grocery store, which has been fun experimenting with. This recipe is quite delicious.

The availability of peppers is woeful, especially compared to the Western US (where Farrell is from). Farrell’s mom, when she visited over the holiday, said that would be a deal-breaker if she couldn’t cook her usual, pepper and chile-filled dishes. My usual supermarket carries… bell peppers. Luckily, we found acceptable chilies at a Turkish market for Farrell to make his Coloradan green chile with (similar to the green chile stew mentioned here).

There is an Indian grocery store so close to my house and it is enabling a lot of obscure spice purchases. There were so few sources for Indian food in Bishkek (compared to Chinese food) and only a few restaurants serving it, so having this grocery store here is great. Now I finally have a chance to stock up on ingredients and try cooking Indian food for myself. Even back when I lived in DC, I would eat Indian and Pakistani food often, but there were so many restaurants around that I never needed to cook it.

Of course, being in a new place, even just being in a new kitchen, means I have to adjust all of my usual dishes. Gone are the mini-stores selling basic food items peppered short distances from my house, like they are in Bishkek, so grocery shopping is a bit more difficult (especially hauling around Darwin, who’s no longer a little nugget that I can strap to my chest). Now I even have to (ugh) plan our meals in advance. It feels so mom-ish. And our work and home situation is different now; with Farrell’s long commute it means that I am cooking about 90% of our meals, which is a change from Bishkek where he did the majority of the cooking.

The peanut butter selection is dismal, but at least it exists. Darwin will not grow up without PB&Js.

I’m going through a breakfast slump and this article reminded me of Vegemite! I’ve seen Marmite available (I am firmly in the Anti-Marmite, no-they’re-not-the-same-at-all Camp) but I no longer have a bunch of Aussie friends constantly going back and forth to their homeland who can bring me back a jug of that salty, yeasty goodness.

Frites have become a weekly treat for our household. While we usually prefer mayo and Americaine sauce (which has nothing to do with America, from what I understand) with our frites, Farrell was once convinced to try Samurai sauce as well (pictured above).

Other than (all of) that, the offerings seem to be pretty typical compared to any normal US grocery store in the suburbs (not my beloved Whole Foods, nothing compares to that). Some baking ingredients have been a bit tough to find, and it seems like nothing comes in the mega-packaging I’m used to in the US. Baking powder in most of the world comes in little 10 gram packets, which I can’t easily scoop my gigantic tablespoon into to make fluffy American-style pancakes. Visitors are always welcome to bring me a canister of Clabber Girl.

All in all, we’re eating quite well here in Ghent. The crazy amounts of cold, wet weather has at least had one positive outcome on Flemish culture; delicious, comforting stoofvlees.

{ 7 comments }

Gentbrugge.

rowhouses

Gent + Brugge. Brugge is the Flemish spelling for Bruges, which I pronounce like “bruise” with a “zh” at the end instead of just a “z”. Therefore, Gent+Bruges=Gentbrugge. Right?

Wrong.

One of my first Flemish lessons occurred in Kyrgyzstan without me really knowing it. The last names of one of our Belgian friends has a “G” stuck in the middle. It’s a long, scary-looking last name; begins with a vowel, lots of letters, a random “y” stuck in there, etc. When Farrell or I tried to say his last name, we usually did so with an overemphasized and confused tone. One day he corrected our main error: the Flemish “G” is not like the English hard “G” (like “go”), but sort of closer to the Arabic “غ” (“gh”). Hence why the English spelling of Ghent has the “h” thrown in there, because it’s actually pronounced somewhere between “Gent” and “Hent”.

So, there’s my first problem. I’m incredibly awkward at trying to strike that balance and get the Flemish “G” right. Usually I say “Gent” with my American accent and just move on.

graffitibirds

But wait! There are two more G's in Gentbrugge, which means two more opportunities to awkwardly fail at sounding Flemish.

Did I ever mention that I can't pronounce my R's with anything other than an American accent? It's the worst. Any attempts at a foreign-sounding "R", like a nice trill or a quiet French "R", usually end up with an "L" sound or just disappear all together, which doesn't sound correct at all.

And, oh look! There's an "R" in Gentbrugge. What usually comes out when I say it (and trust me, I try to avoid saying it) is something like Hent-brew-heh, getting gradually quieter as I hit the end of the word so you don't really know if I'm still saying something relevant or just saying "heh" and apologetically shrugging my shoulders, "Heh, sorry that I'm butchering your language!"

Also, the street I live on includes a word that has several meanings, one of which is slang for genitalia. That means when I say my address, I am frequently asked to repeat myself. The person I'm speaking to usually gives me a smirk that says, "Really?" And I have to return the look, "YEAH I KNOW, IT'S A REAL STREET, OKAY?"

I just have to keep telling myself, I'll get it eventually. I think about walking around Bishkek whispering zdrastvoyte under my breath so I could actually say “hello” like a normal person, or asking my Russian-speaking friend to slowly repeat my street name over and over (too-rooz-BEK-oh-va) so I could actually tell taxi drivers where I lived. Isn’t that the theme of my life lately? Right now, this is hard. But it will get easier. Memory of Kyrgyzstan. The end!

scaled_2536

And this is the part where you guys share your language troubles in the comments section so I can feel like we’re all giving each other internet-hugs!

{ 10 comments }

scaled_6523

Farrell’s company is going through some major changes and there’s a small but terrifying (but not end-of-the-world terrifying, and it’s a small chance, so any family emails related to this sentence will be ignored) chance that maybe Farrell could lose his job (but it’s small, probably unlikely, but you never know). This all made me think:

Where would we go then?

Sure, we could stay in Ghent, but Europe is expensive. Personally, I think the chances of finding a job for one or two non-Dutch, non-French speakers in less than the amount of time it takes for our savings to run out is slim, but that’s always a possibility.

If Farrell were to lose his job today, the first thing I would do is cry; I don’t think I have the mental strength to deal with another move. But this is just a hypothetical exercise, so I can calm down. Realistically, I think our first options would be Philadelphia or Denver, squatting in the spare rooms of various family members’ houses until we figured out something permanent, in exchange for letting them chew on Darwin’s cheeks (those things are gold).

In a worry-free world, the one where Fearless Kirstin see challenges as exciting opportunities and not as headaches, she might want to spin the globe and go somewhere entirely new, just for kicks. Somewhere warm? Thailand has such excellent street food, and it’s best to introduce Darwin to a tough tonal language while he’s still young and can easily soak it up. Somewhere a bit familiar? Lebanon has always seemed just a bit out of reach for me (we were banned from traveling there when I studied abroad in Jordan), but Farrell and I both have some Arabic skills left. Somewhere on my dream list? I’ve had an obsession with South Korea ever since getting hooked on Korean soap operas in Bishkek and following Naomi’s adventures when she lived there. Somewhere from Farrell’s dream list? I know South America has been on his mind for years.

scaled_0263

Then I thought, we do still have a company in Bishkek. We could find a house easily with our connections and passable Russian. We have friends (although they’re dwindling), we know where stuff is, and like I recently wrote about, at one point I had thought through a more extended time period there. Before Farrell received his job offer in Ghent, job opportunities in the US were looking sparse and we had started mentally preparing ourselves for another year or so in Bishkek. Who knows what the reality would actually be like, but I think we could’ve expanded the business and made a comfortable living for ourselves.

I’m not saying that I miss Bishkek or that I’m itching to get back to a steamy bowl of lagman, but it’s an option in a highly unlikely situation. Plus, there’s a certain special someone I’d be happy to see.

scaled_6495

Even just for traveling, have you ever thought of whether or not you would visit a place again? It’s such a big world (and we’re not all Gunnar Garfors), would you rather return to a beloved location or see what else is out there for you?

(If I could, I’d go back to visit Iceland and Thailand before I’d go to a lot of other places.)

{ 4 comments }

I’ve done quite a bit of moving around the world, some of which was never shared here or only shared in bits and pieces. I decided to write out my full history of spending extended lengths of time abroad, and maybe I’ll expand on certain experiences in more detail in a later post.

In 2007, I spent a semester abroad in Amman, Jordan. I think of my time there like a cross between college-life and expat-life. Unlike other experiences, I had a support system that was similar to college, with the staff that ran the program and various university employees who were there to help us get through those four months fairly comfortably. I had an immediate schedule, I had an immediate network of peers, I was picked up at the airport and given a cell phone and an apartment; all the basics were covered for me.

But yeah, it wasn’t quite like truly living abroad. I read a brilliant concept the other day on Christine’s blog, (I’m paraphrasing) that the difference between being an expat and an immigrant is where your idea of home is, one is more permanent and lacks the idea that eventually you’ll “go back” home. I would say there’s a bit of undefinable fluidity that separates being an expat to something a bit lesser (for lack of a better word), like studying abroad. I had a set deadline from the beginning, and it was short. I hardly had time to get to know the other American students in my program, or settle down enough that I could concentrate on what I went there to do in the first place (study Arabic). I had no idea that those four months would inspire travel and living abroad quite as much as it did, but I vaguely remember telling myself that next time, next time I study abroad, I’m going to study. Next time I go abroad, I’m going to meet local people and really throw myself into the whole experience.

I wouldn’t end up studying abroad again. Originally I had an idea that I’d spend a semester in an Arabic-speaking country, a semester in France, and a semester in a French and Arabic-speaking country like Morocco or Tunisia. Then I’d be fluent in French and Arabic, right? That’s how that works? This was just before the economy went to hell and before student loans were acknowledged as being completely out of control. I told myself that I would simply take out loans and stay in school an extra year (or more) if it meant I could study abroad several times.

Luckily, I met a certain someone in my Arabic class the semester after I returned from Jordan. He helped me get an internship that turned into a job that turned into rearranging all of my classes so I could graduate a year early and go spend eight months in…

Baghdad, Iraq! By then I had started this blog, so that experience is lightly documented. There are still many words I have about this experience, but security was always a looming issue, so most of it has gone unpublished (for now).

Iraq was like boarding school. I lived on a walled compound in a converted shipping container that had one window and no bathroom. I walked three minutes from my container to my (beige, concrete, fortified) office building, drank instant coffee from styrofoam cups, worked in a media center in front of a row of giant TV screens always playing either Arab or American news channels (I sat in front of the Fox News screen, groan), and walked three minutes to the (giant, metal, fortified, windowless) dining hall three times a day for meals. The dining hall was staffed by South Asian men who served pancakes and over-boiled lobster. The compound was secured by Peruvians and Ugandans who used the basketball court as a soccer field. The shared bathrooms in the mini-village of shipping container houses (called CHU-ville) were cleaned by Iraqi men. The embassy itself was protected by Marines who were my age (I was 21 at the time), but the office I worked in was staffed by high-ranking officers and diplomats who had been on their career track for about as long as I had been alive. It was exciting in theory, it was nice to brag about and being there made me feel adventurous and brave, but when it came down to it, there were office politics, cliques, romances, and day-to-day boredom punctuated by shared care packages, surprise dinner brought in by one of the translators, a rare trip off the compound (mostly to another compound), or, unfortunately, a rocket attack or bomb blast.

In this case, there wasn’t really an opportunity to put myself out there and befriend local Iraqis. On my first day in Baghdad, my boss pointed to a group of apartment buildings across the street and told me he sometimes watched for snipers hiding on the rooftops, reminding me that if a duck-and-cover alarm sounded while I was outside, “Don’t worry about your dress getting dirty, just hit the ground.” *eye roll*

I remember by the time I left, I was ready for something totally different; no itinerary, no solid plans. Let’s wing it. I was engaged, I was planning a wedding, and we already decided, “Hey, we’re young, we have no kids and no mortgage and I want adventure! How about we move to…”

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. If you’re new to this blog, then go check out the archives. This part of my life is pretty well documented here. Now that I’m gone, I’m digesting what it all meant to me and what I learned from living there. At the very least, I got over the whole notion of becoming a local. I got over the idea of living according to how I thought I should be living my Kyrgyzstan life; “I’ll only shop at the bazaar! I’ll never go to a grocery store! I’ll only speak Russian and Kyrgyz! I’ll travel to all of the ‘Stans and become a Central Asia expert!” (poor, naive Kirstin.) I took my time to get settled, but I’m not sure if I ever found my place in Bishkek. I made great friends, I took cool photos, and I have some interesting stories. But, let’s face it, I was never going to stay in Bishkek forever. We were convinced we’d moved back to the US once one of us found a job, then the universe threw us a curveball…

scaled_6562

and that’s how we came to Ghent, Belgium. I’m just over three months into this new living situation and I have experienced oscillating emotions about it. Although, that could be attributed to the combination of being home with Darwin all day, on my own, in a brand new country where I don’t know the language, plus the rain, plus all of the general new-expat feelings. Plus the rain. It rains a lot.

I tried to plan ahead for this move. I wanted to feel settled in a way that I never achieved, but always wanted in Bishkek. I wanted the house we moved into to be the one we would stay in for a while. I wanted to fill it with familiar things and decorate it. I wanted to set up a comfortable place to get me through the initial period of adjustment. I think we’re pulling that off.

Here in Ghent, I wanted to give myself permission to slow down. From my past expat experiences, I know it takes a long time for me to get into a routine and feel “at home”. In Bishkek, I had my routine worked out. I had my friends, my cafes, my walking routes, my parks, my daily trip to buy ice cream, and my different grocery stores for spinach, brown sugar, soy sauce, etc. If we had ended up staying there for a few more years, I think I could have mapped out a solid plan of action for us. I had resources and friends who could help me with being a new mom and navigate things like playgroups, schools, pediatricians, etc. We had professional connections and a steady amount of work. It wasn’t a bad spot to be in. It took three years to get there, it took three years to be moderately comfortable with Russian, so I told myself (and still remind myself) not to expect much progress in Ghent for a while. Despite the reminders, it’s still a struggle. I get antsy and restless not knowing where to find things (fabric shops in Ghent? Anybody know?). I’m shy telling people about how long I’ve been here (“Three months and she still doesn’t speak Dutch?” they’ll think).

Looking back on all of these experiences makes me realize not only how different they all were, but how different I was during each of them. I was a college student in Amman and got myself into situations that make me cringe now. I was a contractor on a secured compound in Baghdad, sealed off (mostly) from the reality of the city. I came of age in Bishkek; I was a newlywed, a small business owner, and pushed myself far out of my comfort zone for some unique opportunities and events. In Belgium, I’m (for now) a stay-at-home mom trying to figure out daycares, preschools, and how to entertain a little human who is not content to binge-watch the Wire and subsist on cereal all day, all in addition to non-mom things like finding a job, sorting through Belgian bureaucracy, going to Ikea for the 37th time, and cooking dinner.

Every time I leave a place, even if it’s just a short trip somewhere, I try to replay the preparation, the successes and wish-I-thought-of’s. I try to be better prepared for the next time, wherever that happens to take me. There are little tips that sometimes stick, but the big lessons never seem to be able to translate from one point in my life to another. That’s not really what I set out to write about, but that’s the lesson that keeps striking me as I wrap this up. What do you know, you’re a different person at different points (and places) in your life.

Let’s see who I become in Belgium.

{ 12 comments }

GoEuro Travel Trivia

January 24, 2014 · 0 comments

in other

This post is sponsored by GoEuro, a new travel planning website that combines searches for all transportation options, along with transparency of any potential hidden or extra costs, to help you plan the trip of your dreams around Europe.

From the GoEuro website:

“GoEuro came to birth after the extremely overwhelming experience of trying to plan a four-month backpacking trip across Europe. While the trip was (really) fun, planning it was complicated, time-consuming, and much more expensive than it could have been if we had known about other options and hidden costs beforehand. Thus, GoEuro.com was created to give travellers more knowledge, transparency, control, and power over trip planning. We want to make trip planning easy, while providing the most convenient way to compare and combine travel modes in Europe.”

That is an idea I can definitely get behind, now that I’m settled in Ghent and ready to explore my new continent.

Another cool thing about GoEuro is their Tumblr, which they regularly update with interesting travel-related tidbits superimposed on a beautiful photograph (with a good font too, I love a thoughtful font choice!). GoEuro contacted me and asked if I’d like a unique Travel Trivia piece for Ivory Pomegranate, and I’m happy to share it today!

TravelTrivia_Belgium

(original CC photo by Flickr user jepoirrier)

This Travel Trivia was created by Madeline Sinclair, part of the team at GoEuro. They post new Travel Trivia throughout the week on their Tumblr. Make sure to check it out!

{ 0 comments }

Is it just me? Or does January, despite how great it feels to get back to your normal routine, despite how full of promise and potential it is for shiny new resolutions, despite how it inches closer and closer to Spring, feel like a bit of a bummer? New Year’s Day comes and the holidays that stretched on for so long are suddenly done. Poof. Gone.



Let’s not say that I forgot to post these photos of the Ghent Christmas Market. Let’s say that I saved them for a bit of extended holiday cheer.

panellights

Also, I will admit that I feel like I missed out on taking full advantage of the holiday season since I was still such a fresh resident of a new country when December rolled around, so I’m stretching out the holiday-themed posts for a bit longer.

I thought the Christmas Market was lovely. There was an ice skating rink and carnival rides, plus booths to buy cheese, truffles, hot chocolate, sausages, Thai food, booze, booze, tupperware (weird), and more booze. Some of it was hokey, but most of it was charming, and I’m glad we braved the cold to check it out.

What about you, is anybody else a bit sad that the holidays are over?

{ 7 comments }