Thursday, April 5, 2007

The adventures continue

March 25, 2007
Today was daylight savings day, so for everyone I told we’d be only 5 hours behind east coast time during summer, sorry, I was wrong. I am sure in the fall we will have another lovely 2 week stint of being only 5 hours ahead of you, rather than the usual 6. The weather turned strangely wonderful yesterday so we have spent a lot of the last 2 days outside. Today we went to a couple of the neighborhoods where our top contender housing is located to see just how far away they really are from things like grocery stores and bus stops. Unfortunately, we were completely unable to find any grocery stores! At least there were lots of restaurants, so I guess we just eat out every meal … maybe not such a great idea.

I decided that I needed to have food that wasn’t Continental/Italian/Maltese tonight, so we decide to try one of the 3 Indian restaurants in a 5block stretch a little ways down from our apartment. The 2 places that were not in a hotel were closed – we were hungry too early, this is the Med, you know, only children and pensioners eat at 6pm! The one place where we did eat was in a hotel and … this is the best part … it is an Indian and Chinese restaurant. There are 2 entrances, but into one big main room. You can ask for either the Indian or Chinese menu. Bollywood music was blaring but the side of the room we were on was decked out in Chinese paraphernalia – red lanterns, dragons, scrolls. I imagine the other side had elephants and Buddha but I couldn’t see it from where we were sitting. It was surreal. On the plus side, the lamb curry was quite good and even had a kick, which impressed us. The minus side included the naan that wasn’t very naan-like and, horror of horrors, “butter chicken” that was, truly, chicken doused with a barbecue sauce. Ick! I thought that by surrounding it with rice and naan it would become edible, but alas we just finished off the curry and it was enough. I guess next time we’ll be trying one of the other places.

March 31, 2007
This was a week of errands. On Monday I went out for the first time with the new realtor, and saw another top contender house (for those keeping count, we are now at 4, although not one is really perfect for our needs). Because we can’t bring any kind of disk or thumb drive to the embassy, we got to do a lovely convoluted dance of putting our tax forms on a thumb drive, taking it to an internet café, sending the documents to ourselves, then on my next trip to the embassy downloading and printing the forms. Until we have our internet in the house, this is how we get anything from our computer to the rest of the world. Luckily, we found an internet café near the house with good rates and they are usually open. They are even a true café, so we can have cappuccino and sweets while we are there!

After spending parts of both Monday and Tuesday at the embassy, I took a break on Wednesday and joined the Spouse Coffee Morning, which is a chance for embassy spouses to meet at someone’s house, eat and chat and find out what everyone else is doing. I met more people – at even turn I am meeting more people, so although the embassy seems small, it is like clowns in a car – more fit inside than it looks like they can hold. I am pretty sure I haven’t even met everyone yet! Also, “coffee morning” is a euphemism for “hanging out until the mid-afternoon and even later if there is nothing else you have to do.” In the middle of things, I ran out for … drumroll … my 12 week prenatal appointment. I met the OB who’d been recommended to me and she is lovely and will be my doctor. In Europe you get an ultrasound at every visit so I got to see baby’s heartbeat, and she showed me the spine growing, and that it measured perfectly for its age, and we even saw its little hand up in the “air”. It was fun to come back to the other spouses with the photos and then hear all the mothers’ stories about their pregnancies. It was also a huge relief to know I am past the first trimester hurdle and the baby is so far so good.

On Thursday Terry and I went back to one of the top contender houses, since he now needs to see them so we can decide where we will live. The couple who own it live there now (not that common, actually, most places are rented) and are moving. After we toured the house they more or less insisted we sit and have cappuccinos and we chatted with them for a while. One interesting thing I should mention … at home I generally drink Tetley’s tea, it is a cheap mass brand but better than Lipton. Here, I got a box at the store and after a few days it was really making me feel sick – I just figured it was a problem of the tannins getting in the way of iron absorption and lay off the tea. At the same time, for some reason, cappuccinos have started tasting good to me, and with only 2 sugars! I guess carrying Terry’s baby is making me have a taste for coffee. Is this kind of thing genetic?!?!

Friday was a big day of accomplishing things. We had been warned that Malta was very Mediterranean and that when people spoke about time and schedules and deadlines, they really are only talking in general terms. A 3pm appointment could be at 3pm, or 3:30pm, or later. On Friday, our air freight was due to arrive between 2-3pm. Imagine my shock and surprise when at 2pm precisely there was a buzz at the door! Having learned from our previous delivery of air freight in DC, I asked them to unload everything from the boxes so they could cart the boxes away (the boxes are big and thick and not easy to dispose of.) I started putting things away to give them more room for laying things out. Suddenly, one of the men gestures for me to come over to where they are opening the second box. “Ma’am, there is a white powder.” The three of us (me and the 2 men) then behave exactly as we are NOT supposed to act in the event of an emergency. I walked over to the box, looked at what they were pointing at, touched it, and wondered out loud what I had packed. Admittedly, I was present when the box was packed and sealed, so I was pretty sure it was something I had packed, but in retrospect it was still stupid. Of course, it turns out that when I packed baking soda in a Tupperware, the Tupperware opened up and it was baking soda that made everything look like Christmas.

Another important event on Friday was we finally got our telephone figured out. Here in Malta, many landline phones are on a system where you need to buy phone cards and essentially charge up the phone they way you charge up a pay-as-you-go cell phone in the USA. The problem is that we could not figure out how to add money to our home phone, so we were unable to make outgoing calls for a full week (which is part of the reason I ended up at the embassy so many days this week). The instructions on the phone cards are not actually correct. The instructions given to me by my landlord were not correct. The instructions given to one of the nice embassy guys who called the phone company and spoke to them in Maltese for me were not correct. Finally, on Friday I called the phone company myself on their toll free line and we went through, step by step, everything I had tried and what the errors were. He told me to try one small tweak to what I had been doing; I was dubious and told him I’d be calling back when it didn’t work. Of course, it worked like a charm and I finally had communication once again.

Friday night we went bowling with some embassy folks, some of whom I had not yet met. I sucked, and we all had a good time. Terry was thrilled to find that there were other big bowlers in the crowd – at least 2 people had their own balls and shoes. He also lamented that we had put his bowling ball in ship freight instead of UAB – who would have known?

April 2, 2007
Have I mentioned the joy that is produce in Malta? I still can’t wrap my brain around being at a similar latitude as in the USA but having in-season, local strawberries to snack on. Yep, you heard right boys and girls, tonight’s dessert was a bowl full of tasty strawberries, some as good as anything I picked in Bucks County. And the tomatoes …. Terry has become quite skilled in the cucumber and tomato salad, which we have been gobbling up most nights for dinner and I have been finishing off at lunch time. The tomatoes are also, presumably, local because how on earth could they possibly ship such tasty food, and if it were possible to be shipped, why don’t we get this in the USA? I have to admit, the grapes and bananas are imported, so I am not totally talking about local produce, but to have such variety in March (now April) is so mind-blowing that I just need to talk about it. Here, it is summer time, with the parched land not seeing any water for several months, when fresh produce is said to be at its lowest in quality, quantity and diversity. On the other hand, shouldn’t the tomatoes be in their prime (as thought they can get better than this)? Check back with me in 4 months and we should have some answers.

I should also mention that we are starting to notice the things that will probably drive us crazy over the next 2 years. First, give up all hope of finding any kind of shop or store, including the pharmacy or grocery store, open past 8pm. Being spoiled with all of our 24 hour conveniences, 8pm seems remarkably early to close down, in my humble opinion. Also, although I had noted that many restaurants and tourist-focused shops do remain open on a Sunday, that is about all you can expect to find open. It is a good way to enforce down time, although we continually find ourselves venturing to the neighborhoods where our top contender houses are located on Sundays, to scope the area and see how far away things are on foot. This Sunday we went to Attard, which is a small village inland, where there is a gorgeous house with a pool. I have been warned that if I find a house that has actual grass on the land, I am likely to be a target for mosquitoes in the summer. This is something to consider, however, Kirby will be enamored with the spacious yard and lots of things to sniff. We do need our realtor to actually set up the appointment to bring us back there, then get the embassy to agree to let us live there, but these are hurdles for another day. It is strange to me that after days and days of driving me around the island looking for housing, now that I am actually ready to make a decision which will make some realtor quite a chunk of change, I can’t get these people to call me back! We may end up sleeping on park benches after all.

April 3, 2007
The newspaper here is surprisingly good. It is not too thick, a little smaller than the Northeast Times, which was our local paper in Philly. However, the letters to the editor are completely worth reading. This is a pretty highly-informed little nation, and I have read some very interesting arguments and facts I hadn’t known about various issues. One big debate these days is about hunting. In Malta, there are rabid hunters (well, like anywhere, some hunters are rabid) and they want to shoot anything that flies – literally. And they want to shoot at any time of the year. Now that Malta is part of the EU it needs to abide by the EU laws, which forbid spring hunting. Malta has ignored this directive for the first 3 years since it became part of the EU and it set to ignore it this year, but the EU is getting pretty annoyed with this behavior. There is also a new series of articles about a newborn baby that had been abandoned as trash. These kinds of things don’t happen in Malta – where the first murder in over a year occurred a few weeks ago!

April 4, 2007
Today’s adventure was with the fishmonger. Like the fruit and veg trucks, on certain days of the week there is a guy in a truck with various fresh fish on ice, mostly whole fish. Since I know nothing about fish, was worried he might not speak English, and knew that we didn’t have a fillet knife in the house, I have stayed away. I figured that one of these days Terry would come with me and we’d sort it out. I walked past, heard the fishmonger speak English with a customer, and decided to ask him to identify the various fish he had. Some I recognized by name – snapper, mullet, whiting, tuna. I recognized the salmon by sight. Then there was a fish I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I am still not sure what it was, but he had it in big and small sizes. He recommended the baby tuna, which was one of the whole fish, then explained that he can fillet it for me. I was sold. Now we just need to figure out how to cook it.