Thursday, June 27, 2013

Broke Down Palace

Broke Down Palace

I love my house. No really! It is Beautiful. The home that I live in now is the most beautiful home that I have ever had the opportunity to live in in my entire life and I have lived in MANY different places. When we moved to Addis we were put in a temporary home that was very nice. It had 3 bedrooms 2 bathrooms big kitchen, staff quarters in the back as well as tons of storage under the living space. The yard was gorgeous, pomegranate trees, orange trees, palm trees, flowers that I don’t even know the name for. It was just great for our family. The house was bigger than the house we lived in in California by a long shot and there were no stairs to keep track of Jacob on. Unfortunately there are 2 reasons that staying in this home was not an option for us.
1)   According to the American Embassy our family was too large for this house. Yes that is right this house was too small for our family of 5!
2)   The house was structurally unsound. We didn’t really see much wrong with it but apparently there were some major problems that the homeowner would not fix so the Embassy decided to give the house back to the landlord.  
On May 31st the Embassy came to the little house on Meskel Flower Rd that we had made a home over the past 6 weeks and packed up our stuff. At this point we had not received our household goods so the only things in the house were what we brought in our suitcases, food that we had in the kitchen and what was in the Embassy Welcome Kit. The welcome kit includes things like dishes, pots, silverware, trashcans, towels and sheets, that sort of thing. It took a total of about 20 minutes to pack everything up. That has to be some sort of record for us!

The new house was on the complete opposite side of town, this was a nice thing because the new house is closer to the school but it was kind of annoying because the house wasn’t really close to anything else. The move was a little hard on the kids because we became comfortable in the Meskel Flower area. We could walk to restaurants, and museums, we had a taxi driver that we trusted and the Hubs was close to work.  Now we would have to readjust all over again! It was ok though we knew it was going to happen and supposedly the house that we were moving into was AWESOME!

When we finally arrived at the gate of the new house I knew that it was pretty fancy. The wall and gate are beautifully painted on the outside. As the gate opened I was blown away! This house was enormous! Three stories of beauty stared down at me! I walked up the marble front steps and into the foyer. Hard wood floors in front of a huge wall-to-wall window in the living room, marble staircase all the way up to the third floor. All 5 of the bedrooms have wood floors and full bathrooms. On the third floor there is another kitchen that opens onto a wrap around patio where we have patio furniture. The mast bedroom is so large that you can literally play soccer inside of it. It was amazing. There is a library/ office on the 3rd floor that has an amazing view of the city. WOW! How exciting.

We enthusiastically explored our new home. There were still many embassy employees fixing and cleaning the house when we arrived. The Embassy provides all of the furniture so they were moving and arranging more couches and sofas than some hotels have. We were given lamps, end tables, bookshelves, beds, chairs and desks. The kids even have a play/ tv room on the bottom floor.

All Embassy homes are provided with a few things that most Ethiopians don’t have. We have transformers that allow us to use our American 120w appliances, we have a distiller that allows us to drink the city water with out getting cholera or typhoid, we get a voltage regulator to keep the power steady so that we don’t have dips and spikes in the power that might ruin our appliances, we are also provided with a huge generator that automatically turns on when the city power is out.

As the embassy workers began to prepare to leave some workers mentioned that the generator battery was being charged and that we should allow the generator to run for about 30 minutes. Things seemed great…. at first. We unpacked our things. We rearranged some furniture into places that made the house more suitable for our family. It was a lot of work moving a couch up to the 3rd floor but we were rewarded for our hard work with a beautiful home!

We decided that an easy dinner was on the menu for moving night. Since ordering pizza is not an option here in Addis, breakfast was the only option that I gave the family. Brenden asked me if he could make an egg for himself and I agreed. He carefully got out an egg and pan. He turned on the new electric stove and cracked the egg. When he prepared to flip the egg he grabbed the handle of the pan and jumped back exclaiming that he had just been shocked! Brenden tends to over exaggerate things sometimes so I sent the Hubs over  to investigate. A minute later the Hubs screamed, horrified, that he too had been electrocuted! We turned the stove off and called the after hours duty technician. A short while later the tech arrived and ran some tests on the stove and discovered that the line was not grounded! He was able to fix the problem and he left. It was ok.

This house is what the embassy calls a “new Lease” meaning that we are the first American Embassy employees to live in this house. We were told to expect to have some bugs to work out. Later that night the Hubs jumped in the shower while I was getting Jake ready for bed. Just as I took Jakes diaper off and the Hubs turned the water on in the bathroom,  the lights went out. No problem, this happens all the time. Wait a minute or two and the generator kicks on. Any minute now…….the lights will come on. At this point the Hubs starts shouting from the bathroom, Jacob starts crying that he is “gared” (scared). The Hubs comes tearing our of the bathroom soaking wet and completely naked. So at this moment in time I have not one but two screaming naked men in my bedroom!
The Hubs found a towel and stumbled down the stairs and out the door to figure out why the heck the generator isn’t on. He is outside in a towel with the night guard and a flashlight trying to manually turn on the generator. Jacob is still crying, Brenden and James coming running in to tell me that the lights won’t turn on, “I figured that, thanks guys.” Time to call the Duty Tech again! The Hubs was able to find some clothes and Jake calmed down as we waited in the dark for the tech to arrive. Before the tech reached our house the power came back on and there was light!  GREAT! But why didn’t the generator work when it was supposed to? We thought that the problem with the generator was that the battery was dead. This thing works just like a car when the battery is dead it can’t get the motor running! When the tech arrived we told him our hypothesis but he didn’t really do anything to fix the problem.

We watched the new Muppet Movie then the Hubs gave the shower another try. More screaming from the bathroom…seriously?! What is the problem now? He jumped out exclaiming that the water is either scalding hot or freezing cold and that there is nothing in between! Great, a water heater problem!?  Well we couldn’t call the duty tech again, this wasn’t really an emergency, I do have about 7 bathrooms if you count the bathrooms in the staff quarters. The Hubs showered in James bathroom and we went to bed.

The next morning, no power! We had to go to church so we ate cold cereal and took no showers (there is a pump that pumps the water from big tanks outside our house because the city water doesn’t always work. The pump is electric.) and headed to church. After church the Hubs and I had a wedding to attend; that is another blog post. We once again called the duty tech to ensure that the babysitter had electricity while we were gone! When the tech arrived we explained the battery issue again, he jumped the generator and turned the automatic on/off switch off so that the generator would just run and our power would just continue to come from the generator.

The next day the electricians came to replace the battery and now the generator works just fine. We have also had days where the water doesn’t work in the whole house! If we don’t check our water tanks often they will empty and we won’t have water until we can call the water truck and have them fill the tanks. The city water is supposed to fill the tanks but the city water is totally unreliable. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t! The hot water heater in the master bedroom is sort of better. I don’t always get scalded when I shower.

We are lucky to have a clothes washer and dryer here. Most Ethiopians, even wealthy Ethiopians, have their clothes hand washed. In the temp house the washer was older but worked just fine. Here we have a new top-loading washer that locks when the washer is running. As we were preparing for our trip to Harar we had to make sure that all of the laundry was done. The stinking washer locked and wouldn’t open! We did everything we could think of. We unplugged it; we held the open button down for 3-5 seconds just like it said to. We kicked hit and cussed at it (it didn’t work but made us feel slightly better). The Hubs finally forced the lid open. We removed our clothing but now the sensor was busted and the darn thing would not start again. The next day we put in a work order saying that the washer would not start. Omitting the fact that it was forcibly opened….When they came out to fix it I’m pretty sure they knew exactly what happened, but fixed it anyway. This stupid clothes washer has been a burden since we moved here. The next week when we were preparing to leave for our 11 day family driving tour of Northern Ethiopia the stinking thing took 4 hours to wash one load of clothing. I called the Duty Tech and told him that I hated this machine and that I wanted a new one. He said that a new one would be delivered while we were away. 
Fast forward 2 weeks and we are back home. The hubs is packing for his big trip to Southern Africa and guess what….no new washer and the stupid thing wouldn’t even turn on! Duty TECH! Out he comes again to our house. This time he checked the power going to the washer and discovered that there was only 190w of power coming into our house. This is a 220w machine that means that it requires a minimum of 220-250w of power to run. So what does this mean? It means that this problem is not a washing machine problem this is a power regulator problem. The problem is that WE DON’T HAVE A POWER REGULATOR! When we asked when we would be getting one they said “We just ordered some”. Great, when will they be arriving? Oh in about 6 months….. seriously!?
 The reason that I decided to write this post today is because of what happened this morning. The Hubs had to fly out today. He woke early to shower and get ready for the long flight to Mozambique. When he jumped into the shower there was no water. Nothing! GREAT! He heads outside to check the tanks and water pump. The tanks are close to empty and the pump wont turn on. Duty Tech! The night guard called the water truck and the duty tech. The Hubs went inside to shower with a packet of baby wipes.

When the duty tech arrived at the house, he fiddled with the pump and got it to turn on in just a minute! Right after the tech finished the Hubs ride to the airport showed up. After he left I went up to the office to check some emails. The next thing I know Brenden comes charging up the stairs, he darts into the office and pants something incoherent about rain. When he catches his breath he tells me “it is raining in the hallway downstairs”! I run down the three flights of stairs and sure enough water is pouring through the ceiling! I go up to my bedroom and discover a lake in my bathroom! I quickly dial the duty tech……..again! I run out side to let the night guard know that the duty tech is coming back and he tells me that he turned the pump off because there was water leaking out of a pipe on the outside of the house! WTH! Why didn’t you tell me this sooner!???! So frustrating! So the tech comes back and tries to figure out where the leak is coming from. He can’t find it. I think it is in the floor of the bathroom. But what do I know? We turned the pump off and I cleaned the water off of the floor. A few hours ago the plumbers came and told me that they couldn’t find anything! I got the plumbers phone number so when the down pour happens in the hallway again I can call him so that he can come over and see that I am not a crazy person!

While the situation is far from fixed, I am attempting to have a good attitude about all of this. I would really like to be able to plug in my desk top, blueray, Wii, Television (from the states) and use my washing machine. I would love to not worry about the ceiling raining. Oh and I forgot to mention that the gas line on the generator is leaking as well so I would love to not leak gasoline all over the back patio, but I live in Africa! This place forces you to be a little more laid back. If I freaked out and yelled and screamed everytime something didn’t work the way that it is supposed to I would be totally miserable and all of my hair would probably fall out! So friends and family! Have a wonderful week!

Survival Tips
1)   Don’t sweat the small stuff
2)   Keep extra water in your house incase your city water is not working
3)   Keep flashlights handy.
4)   Always test the water temperature before getting in the shower!
5)   Test the toilet before taking a #2! Make sure that you can flush!
Office/ Library

Third floor patio

Third floor patio

Third floor patio

Wrap around patio 

Stinking mosque that wakes me up everyday!

View from 3rd floor patio

Third floor landing

Upstairs Bathroom with shower

Upstairs kitchen balcony

upstairs kitchen, my craft room!

Brenden's room

Brenden's bathroom

Guest room

Guest bathroom

Master bedroom

My bedroom

This is my master closet, I turned it into Jakes room

Master bathroom

Evil water heater, yes I have a shower and tub with shower

James Bedroom

James Bedroom

View of living room from stairs

Main kitchen

Distiller that cleans our water

Stair case

TV Room

TV room

Living room

Guard house and water tanks
Drive way

Servant's quarters, used for storage, laundry and our day guard 

Water tank, out door sink and night guard bathroom

Beastly generator
Front of the house

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

High on a Mountain Top

High on a Mountain Top

If you missed last weeks post you should back up and read the last post before you start this one. This is part two of last weeks adventure.

After our meal I waited outside with Jacob while the Hubs tracked down a taxi for us.  Just standing around in Addis as a Ferengie is always awkward. Just standing anywhere with Jacob is nearly impossible. Jacob doesn’t stay still, ever. I am waiting for the Hubs and Jake is frantically attempting to run into the traffic andcrawl in the mud, basically he is trying his best to force me to lose my patience and humiliate myself in the middle of Addis.  People are beginning to openly stare at us as the other two kids arrive.  After James and Brenden join me more children, from I don’t know where, appear out of what seems like thin air. I haven’t a clue where these children come from but they materialize whenever we are out in public. These particular kids weren’t too bad because they weren’t begging money off of me, however it was really weird that all of the sudden I was surrounded by staring people. Jake made a break for it and tried to run away and slipped in the mud covering his shoes in the brown grime of Addis. Brenden, James and I stood our ground as we tried our best to keep the growing crowd of street kids at bay and hold Jake to keep him from crawling through the muck.

The hubs finally arrived with the taxi and we climbed into the little car with practiced agility and headed up the mountain. As you climb En Toto Mountain one of the first things that you will notice are the stick women. The stick ladies carry bundles of sticks from the woods on the mountainside down the mountain or up the mountain in some cases. I am moderately sure that the bundle of sticks that you are imagining is not big enough. These bundles are about ten feet long (they are like trees) and must weigh about 150lbs minimum. In the rainy season the wood is wet which makes it even heavier! We also saw many donkeys (which made Jacob ecstatic) and other livestock wandering in the road.

We arrived at St. Mary’s Cathedral and Palace of Menelik 2nd. As we spilled out of the taxi a guide for the Palace and Cathedral met us as the rain began falling for the second time that day. As we walked toward the church the sky opened up and the rain poured down on us even harder. Luckily our guide had an umbrella and we made our way to a shelter outside of the church. More than 10,000 people will sometimes attend mass at this church, the shelters outside of the church are for the members of the congregation who cannot fit inside the building. The congregation can be so large that people will be in attendance across the street! Hence the loud speakers!

At this point we have been out and about for a LONG time. I still haven’t found a bathroom so I ask the guide where the restroom is and he directs me to walk behind the museum to a small building. James had to relieve himself as well so he accompanied me. We cautiously made our way to the restroom. James really had to go so he swiftly ran to the door and peeked inside, he quickly retreated mumbling that he’d rather go outside. Oh if only I had that option at a time like this! I knew it was going to be bad. James’ reaction to the “bathroom” was my second clue. The first clue was the smell! I peered inside and what I saw… a hole in the floor with a place for each of your feet.  I’ve seen bathrooms like this before in Europe but those bathrooms were clean, had electricity and they flushed. This was just a hole in the ground! I had James guard the door because if I shut the door I wouldn’t be able to see….anything! It was awful, there was no toilet paper, nothing but a hole! BLAH!  After that was over with we made our way back to the family through the rain. When we got back the Hubs and Brenden said that they had to go to the “restroom” I giggled silently to myself and waved good-bye to them. Hey, misery loves company right. The only thing that the Hub’s said when he got back was “I just did something involuntary…and messy”. I didn’t ask any more questions. 

While the Hub’s and Brenden were having their own adventure in the “bathroom” James, Jake and I waited with the guide. As I’ve mentioned earlier even the idea of sitting still makes boys want to run wildly in circles. This means that James and Jake had to find a means of entertainment and sitting quietly and talking is out of the question.  They settled on finding stones and throwing the stones out into the rain and mud puddles. FINE, I’m not an insane mom. I let me kids get dirty, its ok! Some how throwing stones morphed into throwing boulders! Seriously, Jake was lifting and throwing stones half his size into the torrent. Suddenly Jake shrieks, “I PEE, A PEE now mommy.” Uh, really? Emotionally I cannot handle the public “bathroom” again! The guide heard Jake and tells me that Jacob can just pee off of the stairs into the storm. Really? He can just urinate right here at this historical and religious sight? Well not wanting to get myself and the 2 year old soaking wet (not to mention I’m pretty sure that I’d have to dunk him in disinfectant if he used the public restroom) I decided that if it’s good enough for the guide it’s good enough for me and certainly it was good enough for Jacob. I dropped his drawers and had him aim into the tempest. He was so happy to unleash his inner nudest that he tried to remove all of his clothing! I eventually convinced him to put his pants back on and he went back to tossing boulders into the rain. I think that this kid definitely has a future as an athlete in the Highland Games!

The Hubs returned as the rain let up and we headed to the Palace of Menelik 2nd.  The palace was not what I think of when I think of a palace. It was large with white walls and a grass roof. The building was made of limestone and was cold to the touch. There were wood floors on the inside and we were able to see several rooms including the banquet hall and some storerooms.  We learned that the king’s meat was actually stored in a separate room from everyone else’s!

We marched back to the church but were unable to go inside because the church is only open for mass. We were able to walk all around the outside and that was very nice. I learned that Ethiopian Orthodox churches have 8 sides that correspond to 8 angels. I also learned that the church has three levels, which are symbolic of the trinity.  Pretty neat stuff, make sure that you take a look at the pictures.

After we saw the church and palace the guide told us that there was a 700-year-old rock church about a 20-minute walk up the road. We could not say no to that, so we headed in the direction of the church. We realized that if we walked we might not make it to the church before it closed. We needed a ride! There were no taxis in sight! The guide acquired the services of a truck turned bus and we climbed in. I am very sure that riding in this type of vehicle is against embassy regulation and we are not supposed to be using the services of this type of transportation. We really had no choice though and we were not in the city so we felt that it was worth the risk.  The drive was scary. The driver nearly hit a stick woman a donkey and half a dozen sheep not to mention that Jacob and I went flying every time he made a turn. We did make it to the church in one piece and gratefully we stumbled out of the truck.

The rock church was carved out of a single rock. Three holes, each one representing a member of the God Head, were chiseled out of the stone.  It was not beautiful in the conventional way but it was still wonderful to be able to visit something so ancient.  At the same sight was the Cathedral of Saint Raphael. This church was beautiful from the outside but just like St Mary’s it was not open except for mass, so we were unable to go inside. We decided to walk back to St Mary’s and try to get a taxi down the mountain from there. As we headed down the road toward Addis a few children walked with us. Two girls who were at St Raphael’s strolled along side our little group. As we marched on it seemed as though every ¼ mile or so our guide had to send kids away. I felt like the Pied Piper! The kids just followed us! We had a band of them with us!  At a beautiful vista we stopped at a little table where a woman was selling coffee and paintings and other little trinkets. We sat for a while and took in the beautiful view. Our entourage of little Ethiopians stopped as well. They played in the road as we took a little break. James and Brenden even played with them for a while. The kids were pushing paint can lids around with wire sticks to see how long they could keep them up. James and Brenden weren’t any good but they had fun anyway.

We made it back to St Mary’s and began to search for a taxi but found none! We ended up procuring the same truck that took us up the mountain to take us down. Again the ride was terrifying! He dropped us off in the dress district and we began walking. It started raining again, hard.  We needed to get home! We found a taxi and asked how much to Meskel Flower and he told us 250birr! I told him “No”. He offered 200, I told him 150 and we started to walk. He caught up to us and said that 150 was ok.  As we climbed in the driver handed a bundle of Chat to someone. Chat is a plant that people here chew to get high. It has similar side affects as marijuana. Ok so this driver is totally chewing and selling chat and my kids and husband and I are driving with him in terrible traffic in a rain storm! OMG keep it together! I was freaked out the whole drive back. We did make it to the house and paid the “sky high” taxi driver his 150birr! The story should end there but the we had one other really cool thing of note that happened the next morning that I just had to include in this post. 

The next day Brenden and the Hubs went back to the Embassy because John Kerry was in Addis for the African Union Summit and was making a speech at the American Embassy and all embassy families were strongly encouraged to attend. I was WAY to tired to put myself through another outing so I stayed behind with the two younger boys. John Kerry actually spoke with Brenden for a long while.  All in all a pretty eventful weekend!

Until next time friends and family!
 Survival Tips for Visiting Public Restrooms

  1. Use the bathroom before you leave so that you don't have to use public bathrooms.
  2. Bring toilet paper.
  3. Bring hand sanitizer.
  4. Remember that it can always get worse!
Palace of Menelik 2nd

St Mary's

St Raphael

Gate at St Raphael