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Sunday, July 11, 2021

Settling in


Along the Potomac Heritage Trail

It's been only five days since we left Addis Ababa and landed in Washington, D.C. Five days in which I'm still getting over the jet lag, and five days going through the limited amount of clothing I brought over with me. And yet we've already done much to get settled into our new-yet-familiar home (while spending a large sum of money in the process) - the fridge is now well-stocked, and as I write this the girls are at Target, replenishing my daughter's paltry summer wardrobe. I've already completed two days of General Services training, and online learning will be taking up many of my waking hours for the next eight weeks or so. All things considered we've gotten off to a good start, with the hope everything continues to go well.

The flight from Ethiopia was long (17 hours in total), but uneventful with the exception of some brief turbulence. For this trip I splurged, paying for the upgrade to business class in order to make travel a little bit more comfortable for my long-suffering family. It isn't something I can do very often (and it helped considerably that my employer footed the economy-class portion of the fare), but it made a big difference in comfort, from snacking in the lounge at Bole Airport...: enjoying the leg room and sleeping space that our seats allowed for. For once I was actually able to doze on a long-haul flight:

The Irish landscape. We had a one-hour stopover in Dublin, but of course everyone had to remain on the plane. Visiting one of my ancestral homelands is on the bucket list:

As we had arrived in Dulles early on a Tuesday morning, we had a lot of time to kill before our mid-afternoon check-in at our residence. We used that time (and the car we had rented at the airport) to do a lot of shopping, set up cell phone service and just enjoy the simple things we couldn't do in Addis Ababa, like savor a large milk tea 奶茶:

For my wife, being back in Falls Church (and temporarily having a car) means the chance to shop at some of the many Asian supermarkets in the region. Since we've gotten back, Shu-E has hit up 99 Ranch Market, Super H Mart and Good Fortune (the latter several times), enjoying the far greater range in familiar goodies (and not to mention the lower prices) than was available at the China market in Addis:

"LKK" in the Taiwanese dialect is an abbreviation for "láu khok-khok 老扣扣/洛可可/老硞硞, meaning "out of touch" or "old geezer". Shu-E failed to find the label as humorous as I did:

Unpacking after checking in, and modeling the necktie featuring old Ethiopian coins that I was given as a parting gift from my colleagues:

Prior to boarding our flight we spent ETB8000 (about $180) at Bole on various keepsakes and souvenirs, as individuals are not allowed to carry more than ETB1000 in cash out of Ethiopia. One of the things I picked up in the attempt to lighten our wallets of birr is this Ethiopian-themed face mask. Although most businesses in our area appear to be open again and vaccination rates in this part of Virginia are high, people are still being urged to wear masks while inside restaurants and shops:

The view from our balcony. This is the fourth time for us to stay in this apartment complex (and the second time in this particular building). We like it because management is used to State Department families moving in and out. It also means Amber can attend school in a district ranked as the best in the state of Virginia, while my wife can easily walk to a large Asian shopping center:

Speaking of Shu-E, here she is after picking up some Taiwanese goodies in the parking lot of a Whole Foods, impatiently waiting for me to unlock our rented Ford Expedition:

Lunch in a local Thai restaurant. Shu-E is playing Pokémon Go while waiting for our entrees. Apparently that's still a thing here:

As if any evidence was needed the northern Virginia suburbs are some of the most affluent in the nation, here's an electric car charging station with all its spaces taken up with Teslas and the like:

Being back in the U.S. means being able to shop for English-language titles at bookstores (at least at those that haven't gone out of business yet). Amber shops for manga 漫画 at a local Barnes & Noble, eventually deciding on the first volume in the Mieruko-chan 見える子ちゃん series:

Yet another milk tea. I've lost about 8 kilograms (18 pounds) recently (though that may turn out to be a less-than-positive development), but all those bubble tea shops within walking distance of our apartment might reverse that:

With the car due to be returned soon, Shu-E suggested Amber and I use it to go hiking (and so she could have some time to herself on a Sunday morning). The SUV we've been using since Tuesday is a behemoth that was useful for transporting our nine pieces of luggage from Dulles Airport, but presents a challenge when attempting to squeeze into narrow parking spaces. Our own car will take around 6-8 weeks to reach us in Falls Church, so we'll be using public transport and the occasional rental in the meantime:

For our Sunday morning walk my daughter and I drove to Turkey Run Park, located along the George Washington Parkway. It had been a while for us to see so much greenery in one place:

Holes in the ground made by emerging cicadas. Apparently there had been a large brood in the area a few weeks ago, but we only heard a few of the insects while walking this morning:

We spent most of our time in the area walking along the Potomac Heritage Trail, admiring the river scenery. At least I was - Amber was more concerned about ticks for some reason, especially in those sections of the path that were at risk of being overrun with vegetation:

One creature I wasn't able to photograph was the snake I saw swimming in the Potomac:

Amber crosses that bridge when she comes to it:

Our walk completed, it was time for lunch at one of my daughter's favorite local chains, Elevation Burger:

This will be our life for the next year or so. GSO training will run up to Labor Day, after which the Mandarin course (which should be in-class, barring another outbreak of the coronavirus) will start. Amber will begin the 10th grade in late August, while my wife will wait for our car to eventually turn up so she can take advantage of the many Asian businesses in the region. I'm looking forward to releasing all that pent-up travel energy and explore more of the sights in the DMV and beyond. The past two years have had their ups and downs (mostly downs), but here's hoping the next twelve months will be comfortably uneventful. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Goodbye Ethiopia, We Hardly Knew Ye

Looking west from Meskel Square

Assuming there haven't been any hiccups, by the time some of you read this we should be on a plane flying high in the night sky over the Atlantic Ocean en route to Washington, D.C. We're due to arrive at Dulles on a Tuesday morning, from where we'll drive to Falls Church and move into what will be our next new home (in by now very familiar surroundings) for the next year or so. General Services training will start (online) on Thursday, and will last until Labor Day, after which I'll be plunged in Mandarin training (again). 

In case you haven't figured it out, the above paragraph means our tour in Addis Ababa አዲስ አበባ, Ethiopia ኢትዮጵያ has come to an end. After enjoyable postings in Shanghai, China and Vilnius, Lithuania, the past two years in the Horn of Africa (minus the six-plus months lost to Authorized Departure in Ballston, Virginia) were difficult and disappointing ones. Things started well, with family trips to Cape Town, Egypt and the Seychelles, plus a weekend visit by my daughter and me to Axum አክሱም (now in the midst of the war zone that the Tigray region has become). But we wanted to see and do so much more in Africa in general, and in Ethiopia in particular. We had a trip planned to the country's most famous sight, Lalibela ላሊበላ, in late February of last year. But while Shu-E and Amber were able to see the UNESCO World Heritage rock-hewn churches, I had to go back to the U.S. after my father died on the 26th of that month. And it was while I was in Washington state that the COVID-19 pandemic broke in the United States as part of its swathe of infection and death around the world.

Ethiopia held out against the coronavirus until mid-March of 2020 (during the time we were in the Seychelles, our last vacation as a family as of the present), but then things went rapidly from bad to no one knowing what was the full extent of the spread of the virus. In short order we had to cancel planned visits to Gondar ጎንደር and the Simien Mountains ሰሜን ተራራ, as well as to the walled city of Harar ሐረር; instead, we ended up caving in to pressure from upstairs and found ourselves cooped up in a small apartment from early April to late September/early October, doing almost nothing while the Trump administration spectacularly mishandled the COVID-19 crisis, and American streets erupted in protests over the death of George Floyd. The pandemic would erase our planned family summer R&R trips to Taiwan and Japan, as well as an excursion to South Korea over the Christmas/New Year holidays upon which we were also hoping to embark.

The girls, of course, would eventually make it to Taiwan in the fall, while I returned to work in Addis. And whereas my wife and daughter were able to enjoy a semblance of pre-COVID life in Taichung 台中 and Xiluo 西螺, I and my colleagues at work had to deal with the events going on in Tigray, beginning in late November 2020. As if the coronavirus wasn't bad enough, the deteriorating security situation throughout almost all of Ethiopia meant I (and later Shu-E and Amber, after they returned from Taiwan on Christmas Day) would spend the remainder of our tour confined to the capital city. 

I did manage to get out of the country once, for a period of one week in late March/early April, but only because of a previously undiagnosed heart condition that necessitated a medical evacuation to South Africa. So thanks to a combination of a death in the family, a worldwide pandemic, war and ethnic conflict in Ethiopia, and an atrial fibrillation, it's with some sense of relief that we're finally leaving, all of us now fully vaccinated, and returning to a hopefully different America than the one we left last fall.

And yet, in some respects, I'm sorry to go. Sorry I wasn't able to see more of what is a beautiful and historic country. Sorry to leave my coworkers, American and Ethiopian. And sorry that we couldn't make more of what was still an amazing African experience, regardless of all the fears and frustrations.

Despite the poverty, pollution, power outages and Internet disruptions (not to mention the pickpockets and scam artists), I leave Ethiopia and Addis Ababa with more positive memories than negative recollections, especially when it came to our interactions with the locals. I wish this country and its people nothing but the very best, and I sincerely hope they can overcome the daunting challenges that threaten the fraying ties that bind this multi-ethnic country together. So long Ethiopia, I wish I'd had the chance to get to know you even better.

And so another chapter is finished, and the time to turn the next page is upon us... 

We had most of our things boxed up and taken away a couple of weeks ago, leaving us to live out of our suitcases until we can be reunited with some of our possessions (mainly clothing and kitchen items) sometime in the next 6-8 weeks. The majority of our stuff won't be seen again until after we arrive in Beijing next summer. Truth be told, this lifestyle of constant moves and packing/unpacking has lost almost all of its luster, especially when considering the toll it's taken on my family. Were I younger I would pack it all in (pun intended), but I'm at that point now in life where it's better to just 我慢 and see it through until when I age out:

This past Friday there was a farewell party for myself and two others who are moving on. No event in Ethiopia would be complete without a woman preparing coffee and popcorn:

Amber and I pose with Getachew and Merid, two of the people I supervised and who were a pleasure to work with:

Saying farewell to a great group of colleagues:

Our last family meal at a local restaurant happened the previous weekend at Arirang, my wife's favorite go-to Asian eatery in Addis. Shu-E is looking forward to returning to Falls Church as we'll be close to Annandale, home to several Korean restaurants that she's a fan of:

I'm a fan of Ethiopian beer:

I went with the bibimbap, a tried-and-true favorite. There was a group of Chinese diners in the next room while we were at Arirang, but none of them appeared to notice my 我是台湾人 T-shirt; my job is prevent international incidents, not provoke them:

We're now in the rainy season here in Addis, meaning daily downpours, complete with lightning and thunder. Fortunately, the rainfall, while heavy at times, is brief. One thing I'll miss is the view of the Entoto Mountains from the embassy grounds, even on those days when you can see the clouds coming in:

What the rainy season looks like from our residence:

On this particular night the power went out in most of the neighborhood (we have a generator that kicks in during moments like these):

Street scenes. It isn't uncommon to see beasts of burden on the roads:

A cat chills in front of a cafe:

Crossing over Addis Ababa's light rail tracks. We've never ridden the train, as we're not allowed to do so due to security concerns, but also because the two lines don't go anywhere of interest to us, and we have (had) a car:

Che Guevara and Charlie Chaplin:

Buses, minibuses and taxis often sport religious imagery:

In case you're wondering, the name in Amharic is also "No Name", with the English rendered phonetically into the local script:

"The Ohio State University":

Banana sellers are a common sight on city streets:

Foosball is very popular in this soccer-crazy country. These people were playing outside the Addis Ababa International Stadium (1940); a newer stadium sits out in the eastern part of the city:

Approaching the recently renovated Meskel Square መስቀል አደባባይ:

St. Stephens Church:

Passing by Meskel Square:

A walk through the shopping street near our residence. I really should've done this on a weekday, when the street is a lot more active than on the Sunday afternoon when I filmed this. My apologies for the handheld swaying camera work; I don't have a gimbal:

Next stop: Beijing, by way of Falls Church...