Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Great Big World

A few weeks ago Jack was playing at the park and asked another little girl's grandmother, "Are you American?"

The woman told him she was and then smiled at me. "Isn't it great we live in a country where kids can ask a question like that?"

I explained that we'd been living in Russia last year, and that Jack is still trying to figure out this whole geography thing. He then proceeded to rattle off our address and the fact that we live in a white house. "But it's just a rental," he added. Oh, Jack.

Sometimes I feel bad for our little guy. Most kids don't know much beyond their own city or state. Jack is constantly talking about where we are in the world - "Is this Arlington?" "Oh look, there's the Washington Monument! Are we going to D.C.?" "Is Montana a United State?" "Can we go see the skyscrapers in New York?" "Is Daddy in Russia?" "Is Peru in South America?" Etc. Granted, I don't remember much from when I was four, but I'm pretty sure I didn't know anything about South America. Jack's world is just so BIG. How can someone who can't tie his own shoelaces be expected to grasp it all?

Today we visited some friends living at the Oakwood in Falls Church, where many FS families stay in between assignments. Jack was "swimming" with his new friend Stephanie (after Jack splashed around in his water wings for a while, Stephanie whispered to me, "He thinks he can swim, but he can't." Apparently the only thing Jack got out of two weeks of swim camp was a false sense of security.) and came over to me afterward. "I was having a conversation with the lifeguard," he explained.

"She's Ukrainian," I told him. "Ukraine is right next to Russia."

Jack cocked his head. "Oh. So she's not from Turkey the country?"

Another mom smiled knowingly at me. Earlier I'd been sitting with a group of "trailing spouses," all with kids, all headed for various corners of the globe: Mauritania, Honduras, Korea, Vietnam... Two women, both headed to Tegucigalpa next week, were meeting for the first time. I spoke with a lovely mother of two who's heading to Lima next month. Everyone knew someone who'd been to someone else's post, a friend they could put somebody in touch with, or another spouse who could help answer a question. Our kids ran around together, unconcerned about who'd been where or where they were headed next. It felt nice to be a part of the community for a while, to remember that my kid isn't the only one who's a little lost every now and then (and neither, for that matter, am I).

Sometimes, the world feels really huge and intimidating. And other times I'm reminded, it's a small world after all.

Friday, July 25, 2014

¿Cómo Se Dice?

Okay, the truth is, I know how to say quite a few things in Spanish. I normally have a terrible memory, but those four years of junior high and high school Spanish must have paid off, because I've actually retained quite a bit of the language. Granted, I can pretty much only use present tense, and I've forgotten a lot of my vocabulary, but if forced to, I could survive far better in a Spanish-speaking country than I ever could in Russia.

I REALLY wanted to do the full language training course this time. For those unfamiliar with how Foreign Service language training for spouses works, I'll keep it simple: if there's room in the class, spouses can generally take the full course of language training that the employee is getting. So since John will get 5-6 months of Spanish, I can too (space permitting). Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the afternoon and morning schedules overlap for several hours, and there's no guarantee you won't be on the same schedule as your spouse. That means I'd not only have to extend Jack's day at preschool from 9-1 to 7-3, but I'd have to put Will in daycare too. We can't reasonably afford to have two kids in full-time care without me working, and you only get 20 days notice that you've made it into language training. If you have kids you know it's pretty much impossible to find full-time, long-term childcare in a few weeks. Jack's been enrolled in his preschool since January.

So at the end of the day, language training for spouses really only works if you have no kids and no job, or your kids are in school full-time. I don't fall into those categories. No language training for me. Boo.

(There's also an 8-week course, but since it's full-time as well, I don't see how that could possibly work.)

However, I REFUSE to be in the same situation I was in in Yekaterinburg. Granted, more people will speak English in Lima, and I do have far more Spanish than Russian, but if I want to work in Peru (or any future Spanish-speaking post), I need the language. It would be nice to not feel like a bumbling idiot in a foreign country for a change. I'd also like to be able to communicate with a nanny if we get one. And honestly, with so many FSOs and their family members speaking at least two, sometimes as many as four or five languages, it would be a relief not to be the only monoglot in the room.

I tried a Rosetta Stone-style program for Russian, and it just didn't work that well for me. I think I need face-to-face time with a teacher to really get the most out of language training. I did find out about an app, Duolingo, via a FS Facebook group, and I have to say I really like it so far. It's free and super easy to use. Aside from needing some refreshers on vocab, I'm tearing through the program, and by the time I'm done I think I'll be ready for a class or a tutor. I also plan to study John's materials and practice with him at home (this will also help Jack pick up the language before we leave). And once I get to post, I will take full advantage of the free tutoring for spouses.

Do any of you out there have tips for me? What worked for you to learn a language (beyond basic survival)? Ayudame, por favor!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Prepping for Peru

We still have ten months before we move to our next post, Lima, but it's kind of hard not to get excited. We've heard great things about Peru, everything from the people to the travel opportunities to the weather. But perhaps the thing I'm most excited about is the food!

It sounds silly, but honestly one of the toughest things about living in Russia was the cuisine. I'm sure in Moscow or St. Petersburg I would have fared better, but in Yekaterinburg, being a vegetarian was incredibly limiting. There are some good restaurants there, but the service was so spotty that John couldn't stand going out to eat anymore (the poor man tried again recently and ended up waiting for 90 minutes, and still never received his meal!). That left us with cooking at home, but between the lack of decent produce (sometimes I'd think it was okay, especially in the summer, but when I compare it to what you can find here, I realize it was pretty bad) and John's dietary restrictions (no sugar, no grains), I was basically starving. So after fifteen years without meat or fish, I started eating fish again.

In a weird way I'm grateful to Russia for forcing me to eat seafood again, because Peru is famous for ceviche and other various delicacies del mar. And the fact that John will have more avocados than he knows what to do with will be awesome. He was always so crestfallen when he'd buy an avocado in Yekat, thinking maybe this would be "the one," only to find it pale, hard, and stringy.

I found this bakery via Trailing Houses (the Facebook group for FS families), which led me to this great blog: The food looked so delicious I decided to order the cookbook from Amazon. It's called The Everything Peruvian Cookbook and I can't wait to try out some of the recipes. There are a ton of veggie-friendly options, and even quite a few gluten-free dishes. I'm thinking of trying out the yucca cake for John's birthday, if I can find yucca in Montana...

One of the great things about Lima is that I can find this kind of stuff online. There was so little information in English about Yekaterinburg, it was hard to get excited about it. I'm hoping this blog helped at least a few people out on that front. But for now, I'm looking ahead to Lima!