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Friday, March 17 2017

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The power of water

Water gives and water takes. We are very much aware of that these days, living in Peru. Two days ago I wrote about my shame for not being more aware of the situation around us. For me, that period of ignorance is over. Peru is a country where poverty is ‘normal’ for (too) many people. I knew that of course. But some important effects of poverty are suddenly very clear. Poor housing structures get easily destroyed by violently pouring rain. Roofs collapse and walls collapse. The very poor often live right along rivers or even within dry riverbeds. Our neighbor told me he thinks these people have themselves to blame choosing to live so close to a river. I do not think it always is a real choice. Often those places are the only affordable place to live. Or the only place where you can build a new hut with no problems after the previous one is broken.

What a contrast to the place where we live. Although the water supply is problematic and totally unpredictable, life goes on in Miraflores in a rather carefree way to be honest. Well, carefree and in the past two days without school, but I do not have the impression that the boys suffer from it :).

Elsewhere in the country, the situation is totally different. My previous blog brought me into contact with a particularly courageous, Dutch woman. Kitty Kessels. I’ve never met Kitty and we have not yet spoken to each other. But over these past few days, she has told me a bit about her life in the north of Peru, in one of the affected areas. For more than eight years now, Kitty lives in Mancora. Mancora is like Lima right at the seaside. If you use Google to look it up, you find these beautiful images of pristine white beaches and palm trees. Seeing those pictures, I get an instant longing to fly there. It seems so beautiful to me.

So Kitty lives in a paradise. A paradise with a river running through it, creating a beautiful green vegetation of the kind you hardly see in Lima. This river is one of the rivers in Lima that has overflown. The dikes next to Kitty’s house have yet sustained the swollen river, but it’s questionable whether that will still be the case if or when more rain comes. Due to the extreme temperatures plaguing the country for weeks now, there is a lot of heavy rainfall  in many parts of the country. The rivers that flow from the mountains into the lower areas, have become overloaded. Villages are flooded, roads are impassable, roofs and walls of houses destroyed by the forces of nature. The amount of mosquitoes is increasing exponentially. Dengue is a growing problem and even the Disease of Weil is prevalent (an infectious disease primarily spread by rodents, like rats).

Now, Kitty is lucky in some way. Her village has emergency supplies that were bought last year as a precaution to the expected El Nino (which did not come at that time). And her house is on stilts. Kitty writes in a very realistic tone about her situation. Life goes on,she says. The village has been without rain for two days now, so everybody works hard to clear debris and to clean where possible. Sandbags get filled, in case more rain is to come. Kitty’s dogs enjoy their vast private swimming pools.

I have deep respect for the way Kitty talks about how she deals with the current situation. Her village is isolated from its surroundings. The roads are closed. Only the road towards Tumbes, near the border with Ecuador, is still passable. But Tumbes is partly flooded as well. Because of the large quantities of rain, dykes and mountains have become saturated. More rain may cause landslides. I suspect that everyone has seen the videos going viral on the internet, showing the landslides that take everything and everyone on their way down.

In the rich Miraflores and San Isidro areas, some people still seem to be mainly concerned about their weekend breaks at the sea side and their employada’s not being able to get to work.  We just hired a new employada, Katya. She is stuck in Chiclayo where she went earlier this week to support her family. Now she can not return to Lima because the roads have become impassable. She is waiting for help from the police. Possibly an air bridge will be effective so people can reach Lima.

Fortunately, there are also initiatives to provide assistance. This morning a large ship with supplies left for the distressed areas. Residents of Lima were asked to bring their contributions (non-perishable food, water, medicines, etc.) to various collection points. Taxi service Uber transported the donations free from door to door.

We are doing well, do not worry about us, please. We have more than enough water in our apartment and also quite a bit of food. Where we live the only real problem is the purification of water. At present, we still have water from the cistern beneath our apartment building. The amount should be sufficient for two days if used in an economic way. If the cistern gets empty, we will switch to using the bottled water we have stocked in one of our bathrooms. In the supermarkets in our neighborhood there is no more water for sale (though we expect it will be replenished). Only the little shops on the street and some gaz stations are still selling some half-liter bottles. The supply of fruits and vegetables will become difficult if roads remain closed. But as I usually cook large amounts, we have food in the freezer for at least a week. I just hope there will be no problems with the supply of electricity.  However – and this is really bizarre – where we live it almost never rains. No storm, no rain. In Miraflores there’s always sun during the summer. Every day. All day. Therefore the probability of a major outage seems less likely. But yeah. What do I know?

Friday, March 17 2017

Overstromingen

Peru is drowning

The red dots on the map above, show where in Peru floodings have occurred since January. Almost the entire strip parallel to the coast has been affected to a greater or lesser extent. The situation is horrible. Thousands of families have been evacuated. Homes destroyed, dragged into mud flows that are unparalleled. The army is working hard to rescue victims by helicopter-searches for people in need.

Here’s the bizarre thing. Until today, I hardly heard anything about it, about these floods. Actually, to be very honest, almost nobody really talked about it. In the wealthy neighborhoods of Lima, life was business as usual. A friend of mine pointed it out as follows: people were particularly concerned about whether their planned weekend away could continue. A large part of their country being in distress, was only something which could ruin that weekend-trip. Or that could jeopardize the routines in their household if their employada couldn’t come to work because her family in the north needed help.

For me very much unexpectedly, I received at the beginning of Wednesday night, a message in Spanish from the Ministry of Education. From Thursday onward all schools in Lima were to be closed until at least Monday. This measure was taken because of the expected flooding in Lima itself. After receiving that message, phone calls and whatsapp messages ‘flooded’ my phone . ‘What’s going on? What about our school? Will it be closed too?’ and a new question for me: ‘How many liters of drinkable water do you have at home?’ Moments later it became clear that our school too was to close its doors in the coming days. And that there is indeed a shortage of water.

Messages started to appear on my phone about stores running out of bottled water . I received a picture of a line of women at the checkout of a supermarket in La Molina, their shopping carts filled with tens of bottles of water.. Meanwhile, I was at home alone with the children. Arjen was at a function at the residence and couldn’t do a lot. At that moment we only had 24 liters of clean water in our house. Far too little in case there would be no more clean water from the tap. While I was waiting for news, I filled the only two buckets that our apartment is rich with tap water.

Another whats-app appeared. A message from the municipality. Sometime in the following night, water will no longer be purified. Due to the floods, the groundwater is heavily contaminated. The water purification systems can no longer cope. In particular, the concentration of lead can become dangerously high. We indeed need more water. Arjen eventually took a taxi home and made a stop along the way to buy water.

In the meantime, I tried to find information on the internet about the scale of the disaster unfolding in our new country. Information which was not easily found. On Al Jazeera I read that the floods had taken 48 death so far.

It’s an unsettling thought that so little was talked about the emergency situation surrounding Lima, until two days ago. Until then, the floodings did not have any impact on the bubble in which the rich&expat-community resides. Only now that the water supplies are falling short, some of the news tickles into our life. And I feel guilty because the impact only now really gets through to me. I could have read more about it. Could have done some research to find out on things. Of course, we are still in the midst of a culture shock after our move from Israel to Peru. But still… And now I behave like any other rich person in Miraflores and San Isidro: I am particularly concerned about our own situation. Whether we have enough water or not.

A video on Facebook showing a mudslide which suddenly engulfs a village somewhere in Peru, pulls me back into reality. I see people getting dragged along. Hopelessly lost in a sea of mud that washes down the street like a tsunami. And I realize: we will be fine. In Miraflores we sit high and dry and far away from the rivers. But we are surrounded by a large drama that touches on so many lifes. As dreams are destroyed and lifes of people and animals get lost, we only have to manage our water usage. The children stay safe at home until the Peruvian government decides it’s safe to go back to school again.

Let’s pray for a quick end to the rainfall and more importantly, let’s all do our part to stop the climate change that leads to this kind of extreme situations.

Friday, March 3 2017

Making new friends

Making new friends. Starting with zero point zero contacts in a city that’s totally new to you. Where you don’t speak the language yet. Without a car. Expats are – out of necessity – expert in this field. This is our third consecutive posting abroad and even though I pretty much know how it works, making new friends, I still find it a bit stressful.

I know many people are wary of Facebook and perhaps find that I use it a lot, maybe a bit too much. I do so to maintain the ties with family and friends in The Netherlands and to sustain my growing international network. Facebook also shows extremely useful on arrival in a new country. That’s new to me. I must thank Marc Zuckerberg. Through his platform, I pretty quickly got to know some nice women here in Lima. The Embassy is also a good starting point. And the contacts Arjen makes at his job.

When Arjen met his Swedish colleague in Lima, he found out that he has a family with children in the same age as ours. So Arjen gave him my e-mail address, he gave it to his wife, and a week later me and the boys went to Surco, where the family lives. We were going to have lunch with the Swedish woman and her children. It was our first taxi ride without Arjen. In Lima, a lot of people travel – especially if you do not have a car but actually also quite often if you do have one – using Uber. Uber is reliable, safe, cheap and convenient. You do not even have to speak Spanish to call a taxi or to direct the driver to the address. You simply enter your destination in the app and you wait for a car to pick you up. It hardly ever takes more then ten minutes for a car to arrive and off you go. The driver who brought us to our first lunch date, even helped us to find the right door (house numbers are not always clear here). Our first social interaction outside the embassy was a success. The children had a great time with the Swedish kids and their mother turned out to be a lovely woman I hope to get to know better. On top of all that, the lunch consisted of falafel. For a family that has just left Israel, that means it’s a party.

And then one thing leads to another. The nice Swedish woman introduced me to Dining for Women. This is a monthly event where women cook together and raise money for charity. It is an American initiative, but the women I met all came from different countries and had different backgrounds. The unifying factor was that they all are expat in Lima and that all f them want to contribute to the welfare of women and children living under difficult circumstances. It was a fun and inspiring evening, my very first outing alone, again using Uber to get there. I have to admit though, I felt pretty sick by the time I got out of the taxi. Traffic here is horrible, it makes me seasick. And I am not exaggerating. It’s horrible. And it’s still fairly quiet on the roads (so I’ve been told), the summer vacation is not yet over for the Peruvian schools!

Through a Facebook group for Dutch women worldwide, I met a great Dutch woman, A. I dare all her a friend by now. We already had a lot of contact before we arrived in Peru, she lives with her family in San Isidro where we will move to inApril (yes, we found a house!). So great to have someone to speak Dutch to! Through another group I came into contact with an American mother with children at the same school as the one ours go to. Her youngest is the same age as Thomas. With her I felt a great connection too. And through the embassy, I met the partners of the other Dutch diplomats. With them I will socialize regularly too.

Although the contacts are fairly easily made, it is the actually meeting of all these new women – potential new friends – that I find kind of stressful. Compare it to going on a blind date … Meeting someone you’ve never met before. Usually at a coffee shop or at an ice cream parlor if the children come along. You want it to be nice so badly…, hoping the kids will get along, that you will have things in common. That the potential friend will have a nice husband for Arjen to have a beer with. Or who is addicted to cycling or mountaineering like Arjen. But of course, that’s not always the case. Sometimes you walk home singing after meeting someone new. Feeling like life in Lima is getting less lonely and easier. But some days just feel endless and lonely.

And so my state of mind is like walking on a bumpy road. But it’s so much easier then when we arrived in Israel. I have gotten better at leaving setbacks behind me, I have gotten better at incorporating disappointments.  I have learned to accept and to move on. And I have learned to persevere. To be brutal when necessary. To ask people for help when there’s something I don’t understand. And so I go with my Uber-app, from coffee with someone to lunch with someone else. To the new school for a workshop, a conversation with the president of the PTA or a meeting with the school psychologist. Then onward to a mall to explore shops and to have a fresh juice with again someone else. We will get there. I will get there. Upward and onward on our bumpy Peruvian road.

Friday, February 24 2017

To school

Moving from post to post, means a lot of firsts. For respectively the fifth and fourth time in their lives, Thomas and Benjamin went to a new school today. And again, I had to fight my tears, doing my best to send the boys into their new world with a smile and a hug. And they did so well. Benjamin, who right at our first visit to the school decided that this would not work for him, that he would not go to school in Peru, walked in line with his class with complete focus. He did not see me anymore and that’s good. Thomas’ thoughts and feelings about the new school were a lot more positive to begin with. He had already met two boys from his grade, that helps a lot.

The new school, Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, seems great. It’s three times as big as our previous (fantastic!) school in Israel. About 1700 pupils aged 3 to 17 years, spread over four buildings. Pre-school, Elementary School, Middle School and High School. Benjamin attends second grade and Thomas fourth. Both grades consist of as many as five parallel classes, each with about 20 to 22 students. The majority of the students is Peruvian or from another country in Latin America. Our blond boys stand out between the dark haired kids, they will have to get used to that. Our school in Israel was much more diverse in terms of population. As the majority of students originates from Latin America, Spanish is spoken a lot on the playgrounds. That seems quite difficult to me for the international students and I am very curious to see if and how these two groups play together. The school has a fantastic playground with an awesome long slide – the longest in Peru. There are many soccer fields (soccer is THE sport in Peru), basketball courts, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a beautiful theater and a smaller theater. There’s an isolated rehearsal studio for the school band and there are even isolated rooms where children can practice playing the piano. How cool.

But let’s be honest, all these facilities have little meaning if the teachers aren’t so great, if there’s a lot of bullying going on or if your children are not happy for another reason. We come from a great school, the memory of the fantastic, inspiring and motivating teachers at WBAIS is very much present in the minds of us all. Those memories were once more confirmed this morning at breakfast. Thomas’ teacher in Israel had sent us a video in which his classmates wished him good luck on his first day at school. They told him how much he is missed at WBAIS. After seeing it, Thomas said ‘my head and my heart are exploding’. For me there were tears I just could not stop. When I came home this afternoon after an interesting meeting with the school’s Superintendent and the chairperson of the board, I found yet another beautiful WBAIS video in my mailbox. This time from Benjamin’s former class. All children had written a message to him which they showed. Benjamin’s rock-star-teacher read them to him and they all said something to Benjamin through the camera.  Such great commitment. Even now that we have left Israel.

In an hour the boys will come home. I am writing myself through time and will without a doubt be outside, waiting for the school-bus to arrive, way too early. Their first ride on the school bus. Many more firsts will follow after today, but the first day at school was a very important one.

Friday, February 17, 2017

One Team

From the day after our arrival in Peru, Arjen has had to work. That’s how things go when relocating from post to post. There is no time for acclimatization,  for exploring the new environment as a family. And that makes sense. The job at the embassy is, after all, the reason we live here.

When we moved from Dar es Salaam to Tel Aviv, Arjen left the country after only three weeks. He went to London for a three-week course at the London School of Economics. At the time, Thomas and Benjamin were four and six years old and I must say, it’s a miracle I didn’t get depressed in that intense period. In those three lonely weeks a dear aunt of mine passed away, the temperatures in Tel Aviv were sky high and everyone who could have helped me getting settled, was on summer vacation.

Those three difficult weeks came back to my mind a lot over the past few days. We have been in Lima for a bit more then two weeks now and Arjen has already left the country for his first mission. To Santa Cruz in Bolivia. It’s only for three days, not three weeks this time. And the boys are seven and nine, not that small anymore. But I must confess that despite all that, we all felt a bit nervous about Arjen leaving. The farewell was rather emotional. The boys were concerned about the aircraft – is it safe to fly? And me, I eagerly look forward to Arjens homecoming every day. Sometimes the days can feel very long without adult companionship.

My biggest fear in these days without Arjen, concerns the risk of a major earthquake. Peru is a country with very regular seismic activities. Since our arrival, I have felt one small tremor. Just a small one, but still… There have been more then the one I felt, but those happened during the night and didn’t wake us. At some point, Lima will experience a massive earthquake. However, it can take years until that happens. Nobody knows. Just in case it does happen, I put together a makeshift evacuation backpack. It sits next to the front-door. We have to organize decent backpacks, one for each of us. And helmets. But we have not yet gotten round to do so. When Arjen left for his trip to Bolivia,  I suddenly had a huge urge to at least have something in place. Just in case. The boys find it a bit scary, but together we have made clear agreements about what we will do in case of a really heavy quake. We will seek shelter next to the massive stairs in our apartment and when the shaking stops, we will quietly move down the emergency stairs, out of the building. I hope that we will never witness a heavy earthquake here. Even if you’ve seen just a little bit of Lima, you will realize how dramatic a massive earthquake will be. A very large proportion of the population lives in flimsy huts and cottages.

Anyway. So far, so good. No big earthquake of course. In that respect it’s a bit like flying. Chances are much larger to get hit by a car then to experience a big earthquake or to be in a plane-crash. The boys and me, we’ve actually had very nice days. We make a good team together. We made plans. Very simple plans that included joint breakfasts, coffee or lunch in a nice restaurant, playing football in the park, reading a new book, watching movies. But, in all its simplicity, it worked very well, that plan. One Team, we sometimes proudly tell each other. We are One Team.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pisco Sour and going on a trip

Pisco Sours and going on a trip, have little to do with each other. Let me put it this way. After a pisco sour or two, driving is no longer an option. And yet our first Pisco Sour led to our first trip outside Lima, to a fine Ekohotel in Mala.

We hardly ever drink cocktails, Arjen and me. We enjoy a good glass of wine or a cold beer and in Tanzania I drank a mojito now and then. But that’s pretty much it. We don’t drink a lot of alcohol to begin with. At a welcome drink with our neighbors, we curiously accepted the famous Pisco Sour that we had already  read about in the Lonely Planet and the Bradt. Beautiful crystal glasses with a frothy green-yellowish drink were offered and we sipped gently. Yummy! And… strong …! Our hosts clearly enjoyed the drink. They soon took another. And another one. We kept a lower speed. Frankly, that first glass was enough for me in terms of impact. But we did give in to the temptation of a second glass and therefore another pitcher had to be prepared. Whether we wanted to see how it is made? In the kitchen we saw how our host mixed parts of pisco, sugar liqueur and lime juice with, well, beaten raw egg-whites. We looked at each other behind the back of our enthusiastic and welcoming cocktail shaker. But to say no after seeing the recipe… In short, we accepted our second glass and it must be said, the drink is delicious. But still, it’s a bit of a scary thought to drink raw egg-whites.

While the alcohol was doing its job, our neighbors showed us beautiful pictures of Peru. Their favorite spots were discussed including recommendations for hotels and airlines. By the time we walked back to our own apartment, we knew: it’s time for a first outing. We quickly put the boys to bed and soon we were searching booking.com. But unfortunately, all the recommended affordable hotels on the coast south of Lima were full. Even the expensive ones were fully booked. Everything was full. Except some hostels that still had beds available on a dormitory. For a first trip we did not fancy that. So we searched further and found something a little inland. In Mala. Good reviews on TripAdvisor and a great price. We booked and rejoiced.

A few days later, on Saturday morning, we left. Just like half of Miraflores and San Isidro so it took a while before we could leave the city behind us. In the summer months it is very common to flee the city for the weekend –  at least for the wealthy people of Lima. Many are members of clubs with facilities on the sea and others book a room in a hotel. Hence, everything was full. On the Panamericana Sur, we drove through a beautiful desert landscape. We felt as if we were back in the Negev. But the Negev is now in bloom. This desert blooms never, I think. It’s extremely dry. The huge billboards along the road kept us on track too. We were not in Israel, but in Peru.

After an hour of very observant driving – the traffic here is even more hectic and unpredictable than in Israel – we took the exit to Mala or actually to the village of San Antonio. The contrast with the rich Miraflores was huge. Houses with iron roofs. No big SUV’s or Porches, but tuktuks as we already know from Tanzania dominated the streets. The barren landscape gave way to lush greenery, due to the raging river that we crossed, a river fed by the heavy rains of the past few weeks in the montains. Signposts to our hotel were missing completely, but fortunately Google Maps works excellent outside Lima too. We found the hotel. The owner welcomed us warmly and showed to be a good friend of our neighbor who had already informed him of our arrival.

We have done nothing in the Ekohotel. We read, talked, slept and swam and ate delicious food. The Pisco Sour we haven’t taken though. Unfortunately, Benjamin got sick, so could not go on the planned visit to the beach on Sunday. Back in Miraflores he got better quickly under the influence of many glasses of water and bowls of raspberries and blueberries.

Our next trip has to go to the mountains, we decided. We are craving for a bit cooler air as our family and friends know, we just love mountains. But first, Arjen will go on his first mission with a delegation from the Netherlands – to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. And the boys are preparing themselves mentally for their first day of school at their new school, in the middle of next week. These first weeks in Peru are one big adventure!

Friday, February 10 2017

Hairspray, showergel and other discoveries

Building a new life goes with ups and downs and it takes an awful lot of energy. In the evening I’m pretty exhausted. Thomas pointed it out as follows: ‘when we get up in the morning, you are our crazy, sweet mother. Before dinner, you are peaceful and quiet.’ And indeed, that is exactly how it is right now. I miss contacts with friends. The boys and I are in a great flow together, we are doing fine. But just chatting with a friend, preferably over a cappuccino or during a beach walk, how I miss that! Fortunately, everyone has Whatsapp! I feel a bit bumpy in this start-up phase. The ups and downs alternate. Fortunately no deep valleys though, but sometimes I am just a bit done with it all. It will be nice to meet other families when school finally starts.

Last weekend, the owner of our temporary housing came over to meet. He looked at his apartment, saw the chaos and offered to bring me in touch with a so called employada. Gloria is her name. Monday morning at nine o’clock she was standing at our door. When she left the house in the afternoon, every room was clean and organized. Since then she has come every day. Our laundry is ironed, the bathrooms are scrubbed and the floors are mopped on a daily basis. And that is a dire necessity. So much fine dust in the air! Our feet invariably color black as the day progresses and the couches and tables get dusty. Since there is no air conditioning, all windows are constantly open to allow the sea breeze (and the dust) in. So as you can imagine, I am very happy with Gloria. The boys agree to spend some time with her without me, and that brings me to this morning.

Yesterday, I had a somewhat difficult day, I felt alone. Today I wanted to make a good start again and nothing helps me better than walking. When Gloria got in this morning, I was ready to go out. In the morning, the atmosphere outside is nice,  pretty cool and less humid. My walk had a purpose: to find a drugstore. The embassy secretary had emailed me some addresses and using Google Maps, I walked through the streets of Miraflores. One after the other store I walked in and out. Names like Inkafarma Mirafarma and Botica something, made my heartbeat faster. Would this shop sell hairspray and shower gel?

Maybe you ask yourself, why is Ceciel looking for hairspray and shower gel? In The Netherlands we say: as long as your hair looks good (… everything will be alright). Well, my hairspray is low and I couldn’t find any in my ‘regular’ supermercado. Suddenly that hairspray felt like a very much necessary purchase. And as our shower-gel is almost finished, that was needed too. We shower a lot with this warm and humid weather… I found out that shower gel is not very well established. It seems people tend to use old-fashioned soap. My regular supermarket only sells one type of Dove in a small and overpriced bottle. I gathered it must be possible to find at least bigger bottles and maybe some other brands then only Dove.

Anyway, the Pharmacia’s brought no solace but I did get into some funny conversations. Me reading out loud the Spanish phrases produced by Google Translate, created big smiles on the faces of the salespersons. The Peruvian people are refreshingly cheerful and cordial by the way. The people who sweep the sidewalks every morning,  already know the boys and me. So many want to socialize with us. The old man with the sweet little dog guarding a house (usually with his head in a newspaper) talks about his ‘doggie’. The young woman who sweeps leaves tells how beautiful she finds los ninos. The concierge asks how Israel really is …

The hairspray and the big bottle of shower-gel I eventually found in another supermercado. The Pharmacia’s are a place to buy medicines and maybe diapers and deodorant. Products to style your hair, are sold at the hairdresser. Anyway, I got what we needed for now. My hair will look good and we will continue to smell nice in this sweaty weather. In short, we are ready to face any adventure again!

Tuesday, February 7 2017

How to start a new life?

I haven’t found it yet, the answer to that currently very pressing question. And it doesn’t exist either. There is no answer to it that applies to everyone. A solution that makes all discomforts and uncertainties of moving disappear. A quick fix. Starting a new life is not something one does in a matter of days.

By now, I can consider myself an experienced expat. This is our third country in almost six years. The third time we start over again. A blank page in front of us. Well, that page is of course all but blank. We take ourselves along in our new adventure, our backgrounds, our hopes and fears, our wishes and desires. And not to be forgotten, we carry our friendships and the love for our families in our hearts. Memories to previous countries, precious moments with the people we love. That’s our base, where-ever we go. And it’s indispensable, providing guidance in difficult times. The knowledge that we were able to make our life in Tanzania and Israel meaningful and fun, helps to overcome bumps in this new road.

The house-hunting for example. After the first two days we seemed heading to a less then optimal choice. Four and a half years living in an apartment or house where you do not feel quite at ease, where your husband feels trapped or where a child is sick with a suddenly arisen fear for heights… That will simply not work. But at the same time, the offer of apartments within budget is not unlimited and ‘five-legged sheep’ do not exist. But still. You hope for a feeling of “love at first sight” when entering a potential new home. Yesterday the boys and me came home from another day of hunting for a home with a much better feeling. We had seen two apartments and three houses that actually felt great to all of us. The feeling that we might after all have a choice between several great options, made us feel a lot lighter this morning. The start of our new life suddenly seemed easier.

What more then finding a new home do you need to start a new life? Undoubtedly that is making friends. making the connection with our new environment. And that is also without a doubt, the most difficult step to take. Real estate agents help you to find the perfect home. You tell them what you are looking for, your budget, your goes and no-goes. And they will eventually find something for you. But finding friends … There is no database to go through. No broker to mediate. You have to do it all by yourself, opening up for anyone who comes your way.

Last Saturday, we were invited for a first dinner. With two American families, diplomats like us. One of the two families has lived in Israel, just like us. We never met, they were there when we lived in Tanzania and moved to Athens when we moved to Tel Aviv. We do share common friends and that’s how we got to know each other. Well, on Facebook that is. Not in real life. By taxi we drove to La Molina, a suburb of Lima. A soccer ball with us for the boys. And honestly, I had a slight tickle in my stomach. It’s almost like a blind date. Having dinner with people you’ve never met before,hoping it clicks. And it did. It clicked. It felt familiar. Because of us sharing wonderful memories of the same country, there was an immediate sense of recognition. The husband turned out to be a fanatic cyclist like Arjen. What a coincidence! We ate, talked, laughed and shared feelings of homesickness. The other family present, will move to Tel Aviv in July. They enjoyed our stories and shared their Peruvian ones for us to learn from.

Today, we had a second major introduction. The boys and I spent the morning with two spouses of colleagues of Arjen. To be honest, you never know who you will find on a new post. Whether you will become friends or not. But this morning was truly cozy (I can’t find a better word to describe what we Dutch call ‘gezellig’) and warm, as good you can hope for such a first encounter. Seated on the terrace of a beautiful apartment by the sea in the colorful district of Barranco, we talked about earlier postings, children and international education, the embassy, the various districts of Lima … It was good. And that helps tremendously. Knowing that there are others like you. People who seek the connection, who want to make contact. And who know the ropes, know about the difficulties you encounter when relocating from one post to another, when starting a new life. And so move, step by step. Forming our new life. Looking for a place to call home. Enjoying new dishes, new views, a new language, new sounds and smells. But above all: together. One team. One family.

Saturday, February 4 2017

A warm welcome

A 12,5 hours flight is long, but in many ways it’s also short. 12,5 hours of watching movies and series, drinking water, taking naps and eating, brings you to the other side of the world. To a totally different world that is.

The lovely stewardesses of good old KLM wished us good luck and looked with compassion at Thomas and Benjamin who were about to collapse after having been exemplary kids during the long flight. At the door of the aircraft, we were welcomed by two embassy colleagues and the spouse of one of them.  Hugs were exchanged – crazy how you can feel familiar with people even though you have only been in contact by mail and phone. Everything went very quickly. The luggage arrived and we flew past the passport control – the benefit of having diplomatic status. Without delays at the gigantic scanners where luggage is checked before people are allowed into the country, we walked into the damp and warm evening of Lima. Memories of our arrival in Dar es Salaam forced themselves on me while we walked into the darkness behind the embassy driver. Sitting in the car, looking outside and trying to get an impression of our new country. Two sleeping children against me and Arjen who was going though his agenda for the next few days with the driver. Bizarre. But that’s how it goes when you are an expat family arriving at your new post.

In the apartment in Miraflores, our temporary housing,  we were welcomed by the wife of the ambassador. A lemon-meringue cake, champagne, empanadas and guacamole were waiting for us, but all we really wanted was sleep. There was however one big BUT … it was terribly hot in the apartment and there was no airconditioning nor were there any ceiling fans. The next day we discovered that this is quite normal for this part of Lima. Temperatures rarely reach a level that makes them necessary. But Lima has been suffering from a heatwave for several days. Hence a warm welcome, in many ways.

Processing the jet lag in the heat, Arjen left the apartment early in the morning for his first meeting at the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A few hours later, the boys and me got in the car with broker Patricia who drove us through the neighborhoods in which we will be looking for apartments in the next days. In between we made a stop for an ice cream and we ended the ride with the purchase of two standing fans and a visit to the great supermarket Wong. Now that is something that makes me so, so happy! A big supermarket with everything you can think of, great fresh bread and a large selection of organic vegetables and fruits. This family is thrilled by the discovery that strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are available year round. A bottle of disinfectant stuff for washing fruit and vegetables also went along. This is very much needed in a country where the water contains parasites.

Back at the apartment, we managed to stay awake. The embassy’s driver brought us a mobile air-conditioning unit which to our delight transformed the boys’bedroom in a cool place. Later Arjen came home and all together we took a walk to restaurant La Bonbonnière, recommended to us by well informed friends. The food was fantastic – according to the boys definitely better than at Landwer, our favorite weekend-restaurant in Herzlyia. Eating and chatting about our first impressions of Lima, we were able to relax a bit and enjoy being there. That night we all slept better, the first big bump had been taken.

On day two, the house hunting began. Our biggest challenge is to let go of what we know, what we had in Israel. A spacious house with a garden, around the corner from the beach and in a quiet street. In Lima we will not find such a place. That’s clear to us by now. But a struggle it is… Especially for the boys. A struggle that sometimes lead to heartbreaking situations. Like when we entered a very new apartment on the Malecon in Barranco. Those who happen to know Lima, know that this is a prime location by the sea. The apartment was situated on ground level and had a big terrace overlooking the ocean and a little garden in the back. The boys ran through the house full of excitement. This is it! Everything looked great, clean and new. The kitchen was amazing and that garden, that garden… But then. Three bedrooms. Seems enough for a family of four, but what if we get guests from The Netherlands (or from Israel)? Where should they sleep? And where is mommy to work on her book? With tears in his eyes, Benjamin suggested him and Thomas could share a bedroom. Thomas responded with a very loud and clear N E V E R. Lots of tears followed. Another house on that same road was designed by a Famish architect. He had designed the house for his wife and himself, but ultimately they decided not to live there themselves but rent it instead. Well. I completely understood that decision. The place was totally unsuitable for children. A sort of floating staircases without side rails and strange rooms without space for toys. Great for cocktail parties I am sure and art will shine on those shiny walls. But a home? No.

We ended day one of our house hunting with a visit to Arjen at the embassy. Nice to meet colleagues. While the boys just stayed with Arjen, I got the chance to walk through the beautiful Larcomar opposite the embassy. A mall built in a cliff overseeing the ocean with many fun and useful shops, bars, restaurants and a movie theater. What strikes me is the joy, the lightness of the atmosphere. The kindness. Nice.

With bags full of groceries for our first home-cooked meal and with two nice apartments in San Isidro in mind that we are going to see together with Arjen in the weekend, the boys and me headed home.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Delayed… with a good reason

The containers filled with our furniture and the car, had left right on time from Israel and our own departure went as planned. The new diplomatic passports were already in the making, the medical examination at KLM Health Services went just fine: We had been approved. And then that one phone call came.

We decided not to share it on Facebook, that one phone call and all that happened after next. After all, Facebook still is a bit of a happy news medium, the picture book with happy faces and beautiful scenery. After consulting with Arjen, I decided to write about it after all. At the very last day before our delayed departure to Lima. That one phone call led to a delay that we had not foreseen.

In December we were on vacation in the Netherlands. Since the death of a beloved uncle from metastatic melanoma – a brother of Arjens mother – Arjen had  his moles periodically checked by a dermatologist. Last summer that control didn’t take place. I guess that, when year after year nothing is found at those check-ups, one can reach a point thinking that it’s fine to skip the check up once in a while. The plan was to have the next ‘mole-check’ in the summer of 2017, the summer of our transfer. When that transfer was suddenly brought forward by Lima and we unexpectedly went to the Netherlands in December, Arjen decided to pay a visit to the acclaimed Mauritz Clinic in The Hague. The dermatologist decided to have a mole on Arjen forearm removed. This mole seemed new to her and she wanted to be absolutely sure it was fine. She told Arjen that the chance of it being benign was as big as 99%. It was basically removed ‘just in case’. Arjen was lucky. The next day he would undergo surgery to remove a lipoma on that same arm in another hospital. The surgeon agreed to also remove that mole during that procedure. That was in December.

The results of the lab check of the removed tissue came just a week ago. On Monday. Two days before our scheduled departure to Lima. The surgeon first talked at length about the lipoma that came back clean and safe. The mole however, had turned out to be a melanoma. The most malignant form of skin cancer. Well, it was a stage 1A with a very favorable prognosis, but still cancer and therefore there were no guarantees. A few hours later we read the details of a 0.3 mm thick (thin) melanoma without evidence of metastasis and with clean cutting surfaces. But those facts don’t mean a lot at such a moment. The ground has already sunk beneath our feet and it took a few days to get a feeling of grip again.

That we are a bunch of lucky people, we already knew. And that we have great friends was not new to us either. In the week after the melanoma was introduced into our lives (and left us with a weird sense of relief), there were two very special friends, both doctors, who made the seemingly impossible possible. Because of their bold actions, Arjen lay on the operating table again in another hospital, just a bit more then 12 hours after that dreaded phone call. An experienced surgeon removed quite a bitof skin surrounding the scar of the removed melanoma. Four days later (much faster than we had hoped) called one of those great friends us with the lab results. The removed skin was clean, Arjen was healed. We postponed our flight to Lima to tomorrow, of course in close consultation with the ambassador and the physician of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This way, we got a chance to process the shock and in particular to await the outcome of the tissue-check in the Netherlands.

And so we fly to Lima tomorrow. With a stack of new UV-resistant shirts (we already had short sleeves, but from now on it’s going to be long sleeves) and an even greater awareness of the dangers of the sun. But also with a deep sense of gratitude. Divine intervention? That’s how it feels to me. Because we were early transferred to Peru, this melanoma could be detected at a very early stage. We are really a bunch of lucky people.

Tomorrow morning we fly to our new destination. With sadness we leave behind our family and friends in the Netherlands. But we also look ahead and we are filled with confidence. Confidence in the future, in each other and in God’s hand that always catches us.

Friday January 6, 2017

Every time we say Goodbye, I die a little…

Admittedly, ‘Every time we say goodbye’ song by many great performers, does not correspond to the farewell I am facing. Unless I consider Israel as a loved one that I can not let go. But saying goodbye does hurt. Farewell to Israel, farewell to friends, colleagues, house, beach. And yet we do it.

Why?

Yes why?

Lately, this question pops up in my head quite frequendly. Especially at times when the boys are struggling with our move. Like when KLM brought us back to Israel from the Netherlands for the last two weeks of – yes – saying goodbye, packing up and moving. Thomas’ head turned to the little window, looking at the disappearing lights of the Netherlands. The silent tears. The passionate tears. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves and the children?

Thomas, confronted with a sadness about leaving the Netherlands that he couldn’t comprehend very well, put it beautifully:

“In the Netherlands I fit in best. That’s where my grandparents are, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. The Netherlands has rules that are followed by people. In the Netherlands, everybody speaks my language. The Dutch bread, cheese and peanut-butter are the tastiest and the houses are beautiful and everything functions well. But still … Still, I love the adventure of living in another country even more. “

So that’s why.

But I have to admit. Even with the knowledge that that’s why we do it. Knowing that Arjen will have a cool and challenging position at the Dutch Embassy in Lima. That Peru is a beautiful country. That KLM can and will always bring us back to The Netherlands in case of an emergency.Despite all that, it caught by the throat more then once while enjoying our vacation in The Netherlands. Fear of the unknown. A profound feeling of discomfort thinking about living even further away from my parents and sister. The dread for the long flight. Sadness about letting go of my work at the American International School in Israel. Many ‘what ifs’ that raced through my head.

Those racing thoughts and fears inside my head, finally came to a rest in the cinema. Arjen, Thomas, Benjamin and I watched Walt Disney’s Vaniana. I can only say: go see! So what was it in this movie that made me feel calm again. Calm and excited about our new adventure? The notion that a little fear, a little danger, is part of life. If you constantly try to avoid your fears and the unknown, your life will wither, it dies away.

So we jump! Into our new adventure. Headfirst! And to be able to do this with a good feeling, we will use the next two weeks to say goodbye, to look back with friends, to raise our glasses to the future and to life. And in between we will pack our lives in suitcases and boxes…