Thursday, May 10, 2007

May in Malta Part I

May 4, 2007
Moving day! After Terry heads off to work I rush around the apartment and try to pack up all the last minute things, which always seem to take as long as packing all of the not-last-minute things combined. I sadly disconnect the phone and internet and pack things away until next week (hopefully) when communication will be reinstated. The movers arrive early and they seem confused. They don’t speak much English, they ask if the things are being transported overseas (no, just to Attard!) and they ask if I am riding with them in their truck. I had understood that someone would be driving me in a real car and the movers would follow, but since the someone had not arrived I was no longer certain. I was proud of myself for being so calm as I called GSO and asked what exactly was going on. He clarified that yes someone was coming but he hadn’t arrived yet – I was being fit in between two other official embassy events – but I would not be riding in the moving van. Relief! The move itself is rather uneventful as is the unpacking, except that each time I couldn’t find an item where I thought it was supposed to be I panicked that a box had been left behind. At the end of the day all the essentials had been located and I had unpacked all but 3 boxes. I had also refilled several of the plastic tubs that Terry made me buy with things to be stored, such as winter clothing or anything that fit me as of 2 weeks ago (yes, Terry was right, you can never go wrong having lots of plastic storage tubs in the foreign service. See, I admit when I am wrong)
I decide to take a walk because I need to get out of the house and the unpacking. Wandering around hoping to eventually be able to find my way back I stumble onto the local grocery store! And there is a produce truck right in the parking lot across the street! How easy is that? I get a few essentials – not too much because I am not really sure how to get home – and ask the nice checkout lady how to get to San Anton Gardens. I am grateful to live so close to such a well known site. Clocking the return trip, it takes me 6 minutes. At 9 months pregnant, it will probably be 15. Not too bad.

May 5, 2007
Cinqo de Mayo and farewells to a couple of embassy folks who are finishing their tours and heading into new worlds. This is my first trip to Marine House, party central and housing to the USA Marines on the island. The view is amazing – better to spot invaders by – and the digs are quite nice too. There is a chili cook off and I have to admit only one of the chilies really got my attention at all, and none of them were hot enough.

May 6, 2007
We rearranged the living room furniture as we’ve been dying to do since we moved in (yes all of 2 days). Mom, don’t read this part … there was an old desk in the living room that we decided not only did not fit in to the living room, but also that it would be great to put it in the study as a second desk so when we are both on computers we can be in the same room. So we haul it upstairs and into the study, where we realize that it is larger than we thought and the study is smaller than we thought, and not only will the desk not fit once our stuff arrives but also we are pretty sure the bookcase that used to live in the study will also not fit. It is good for now, though, as a place to set up the desktop while we wait for our stuff to arrive.

Our lovely friend and CLO (Community Liaison Officer, an embassy position involving lots of different things but mainly - for my life - helping the spouses navigate the new country) Lisa invited us to brunch at her place, where she treated us to amazing French toast made with Maltese bread (note to self to pick up Maltese bread) and real brewed coffee (that one is more for Terry than me). She drove us home because she needed to stop by the San Anton Gardens, where there was a flower show this weekend and she had made a submission on behalf of the USA embassy – she had been a florist in a past life and it really showed! She was also picking up some folks she had dinner plans with, and ended up leaving Kodiak (her dog) briefly in my care. Big mistake on her part. I was walking along the edge of the pool to check out a couple of the trees on the far side of the garden (they hang over the pool – the only access is along the pool’s edge) and behind me hear a splash. Dog overboard! Because the pool it not yet fit for swimming I panic, when I see he is struggling to get out I panic some more, reach into the water, grab his harness, and haul him out of the water. I run him out of the pool area and close the gate. Wouldn’t you know it, he returned to the gate time and again to see if it was open because he clearly wanted to go back in! He was only damp as opposed to soaking wet, and slightly smelly and slightly green, by the time Lisa returned. Each time I am left alone with this dog the chances of him ever becoming Kirby’s playmate and being left in my care alone all day become more and more remote.

We then all went to the flower show and wouldn’t you know it – two different people asked to get Kodiak’s photo because they thought he was such a pretty dog! Apparently swampy slimy pool becomes him.

May 7, 2007
Today was our first work day at the new house. As post-pregnancy usual, when Terry got up to get ready for work I stayed in bed a bit longer. I heard strange thumps and water going on and off during what was meant to be his shower in our ensuite bathroom and when he came out he announced that there was no hot water. Good morning! (strike 1 for today)

We discover that the downstairs has plenty of hot water and figure that as a last resort we could shower in the tiny, ship-like bathroom on the first floor (ship like because there is just a shower head, no actual sectioned off area, so showering there involves soaking every other item in the bathroom.) I had several things to accomplish at the embassy so I decided it was time to get up and I’d try to catch our landlord if he was around – it was too early to call him – and I’d run to the grocery store before heading to the embassy rather than after.

At the grocery store that is conveniently a 6-7 minute walk from our house, I discover that several very basic items are not to be found (we are talking red wine vinegar and frozen chicken). However, I can find shredded parmesan cheese and Haagen Dasz, neither of which I was able to find at the huge supermarket near our former home that carried things like oat milk. Apparently, each grocery store can only stock so many items that I need. I really want our car. (strike 2)

After hanging out hoping to spot my landlord and finally submitting to the freezing and oh so short shower I decide to try the rubber band – button trick with my biggest pair of pants, rather than submit to another day of maternity jeans that fall down because they are too big. The other maternity clothing I have are either too cool for this weather (skirt, dress, capris) or too big (nice black pants). Having no rubber band, I use a hair elastic which is a bit too small to really make much of a difference. Heeding the words of a mother who advised me that any pants I stretch out to try to avoid maternity clothes will not revert to their previous size even after I do, I give up and put on the jeans. I really need to do laundry.

As I am in the bedroom, I notice that the toilet seems to still be running from quite a long time ago. I take the lid off the tank and see that the water is gushing into the tank as it should to fill it, yet none of the water is staying in the tank. I can’t figure out where the drain is but the water is clearly going straight down the drain. Have I mentioned that water is a precious and rather expensive commodity in this lovely land of no natural sources of water? (strike 3 – you’d think I’d be out by now, but wait … there is more) I lift the bubble/bladder thing that makes the water stop running when it is lifted and think about what to do. I try to shut off the water but no dice. Complicating things is the fact that the toilet is British style, where you push a button in the middle of the top of the tank to flush, and that button is connected to a piece in the tank itself so it is not possible to simply remove the top. I can appreciate that I looked comical with the top of the tank in one hand, and the bubble/bladder thing in the other hand. I finally run downstairs where a load of outdoor trash was waiting for the trash collectors, grabbed a brick, and just in case also grabbed a plastic bottle waiting for recycling. I figured one of these things could prop up the bubble/bladder thing. After several awful attempts to wedge the brick in, it was just too big to fit the space. I was able to crumple up the water bottle enough to get it in and prop up the bubble/bladder thing so that it shut off the water. This is clearly a very temporary solution.

Finally, I head out towards the embassy. At the embassy my lovely friend and CLO, Lisa, had planned to help me sort through what I need to do to get Kirby into the country, as she had jumped through all these same hoops only one year ago to get her fluffball Kodiak in country. Before we begin I head down to the GSO office where one of the GSO staff was supposed to have copies of the form I needed to get signed by various people for Kirby’s customs and vet clearances when he got to Malta. Turns out the form he gave me is old, and not the right form. (strike 4) I was very lucky that lovely Lisa had an extra copy.

We started going through step by step everything she had done to get her dog into Malta and she’s showing me all the forms she got signed and stamped, etc. One form is essentially the health certificate; it is filled out by Kodiak’s veterinarian and it is stamped, signed and sealed by the USDA. My heart sinks. According to this form a USDA certified vet is not sufficient, we do need to get the paperwork to the USDA itself which is of course only open on week days and only located in Harrisburg, Annapolis and Richmond for the states Terry might pass through while he is home. (strike 5) Lisa had shipped her dog from California, where there is a USDA office just outside the San Francisco airport. I double check the list of USDA agents online and yes, there is one at JFK but none at any of the other remotely local airports. I could call the vet where we have made Kirby’s appointment for his health certificate and ask them what their process is for USDA certification, but since we have moved I have neither phone nor internet (and therefore Vonage phone) at the house, and anyway it is only 7am in the USA.

I also learned from the GSO staff that although we had expected our car to be cleared and available for pickup today, it would not actually be available until tomorrow. (strike 6) Further, our household goods that had been ship freighted and were meant to arrive a week ago would arrive tonight and not clear customs for at least five more days, although we had been led to believe by others the customs process was a 1-2 day event. (strike 7) The five days would expire on a week where Terry was unable to take any time off, so we would be unable to receive the ship freight until the two days before Terry left for training in the USA, and we were not sure his boss could spare him those extra two days.

At this point I lose it. I actually start crying. I hope I can convincingly blame pregnancy hormones, lack of sleep due to a persistent mosquito last night, and hunger (it is past my second breakfast time and almost rounding the corner to lunch). Lisa handles it and me beautifully. We sum up today’s troubles – no hot water, no car, no stuff, no dog. I then add that my pants are falling down and she starts laughing, which gets me laughing too. Part of the frustration is that I have lived overseas in more difficult circumstances than this before and managed, for example I NEVER had a car any other time I lived overseas, so why am I getting so upset now? Again, I hope to blame pregnancy, low blood sugar, and fatigue.

Soon after I finally pull myself together Terry comes in with my Maltese driver’s license. I even manage to make a joke about having nothing to drive.

(This is the part where I warn everyone against ever using Lufthansa cargo – pet shipping). I called them last week and after 5 transfers was allegedly connected to a woman who handled pet shipping. She asked me to send the documents I had as well as some basic info about Kirby, his crate, etc. I sent the email and the reply I got from her contained a thread of her and a woman who is alleged to be THE one who handles dog shipping for Lufthansa. We’re not just talking pets, she was specifically referred to as the DOG shipping expert. This woman indicates that I need to obtain a transit permit for Kirby to go through Frankfurt airport and also that I (yes I) need to figure out with Frankfurt what to do about the fact that his rabies shot is a 3 year shot and the old rules required the shot me no more than 12 months old. Why THE dog shipping expert does not know this answer herself is a mystery to me, and how it is possible that she does not have a copy of the transit permit to send me is another mystery. Lisa kindly gets on the phone with the Frankfurt embassy, which actually has a whole customer service line (wow!!!) and after some research and even a conversation with Lufthansa in Germany, it turns out nobody in all of Germany has ever heard of this transit permit. It is moderately unfortunate as I had been told by Lufthansa in the USA that it was one of the documents they needed before I could even book Kirby’s flight. (strike 8)

Did I mention that Lufthansa is a German airline? I mean, yes the people I was dealing with were the USA office, but shouldn’t they know something? Anything at all?

Did I also mention that it is only 1pm at this time?

(This is the part where things turn around) I go home, an on the way field a phone call from Lisa that she has started researching Northwest Airlines – apparently they have always had the best pet cargo shipping reputation in the airline business – and needed to know Kirby’s crate size. I didn’t have it yet but promised to call her back with it. When I got home I ate (finally) and rang my landlord’s doorbell (he’s my next door neighbor). He came out and went with me to check the hot water situation. He determined that the hot water in the laundry room and the bathroom that only has a bathtub was operating properly, but the hot water that leads to the 2 showers were not. He promised to get the plumber out as soon as possible. As we walk downstairs I ask – as Terry and I had been discussing over the weekend – if he would mind if we put in shelving in the tall pantry area (there is a closet-y thing in the kitchen that is about 5’ high and maybe 2-3’ wide, and just one large space). He thought I was asking him to do it, agreed to do it, and said his workman would come by some time this week. Yippee!

May 8, 2007
After awful Monday, today was a day of getting things accomplished. First the air conditioning folks came to do something with the units outside, then to check the last 2 units they hadn’t been able to check when they were installed. One was fine, the other needed a new fan so they said they would return Thursday morning. Next, Lisa arrived with Kodiak, who was going to spend the day with me and give me some furry company as I fielded various workpeople. My landlord came by to tell me the electrician would be coming late afternoon to fix the hot water heater – only one day without hot showers – not too bad. I ran out to Smart (a grocery store, further explained below) to get Terry a coffeemaker and a few other things before the cable guy came, thinking the cable guy would be early because they had been early when they came in our previous apartment.

I have already mentioned the grocery store that is a 6-7 minute walk from our house, that doesn’t carry such basic items as red wine vinegar. Well, there is also a big fancy grocery store in a nearby village, and when we aren’t getting totally lost and wandering in circles it only takes 10-15 minutes to get there. When I say big and fancy, I am talking a patisserie in the store, a whole aisle of one kind of fruit juice (conveniently, the kind I like best, although the kind Terry likes best takes up half of another aisle). In the same complex is a cafĂ©, a toy store, a phone store where we can get cards for more minutes on either my cell or our home phone - once we get the home phone installed. After only going once the straightforward way with Terry I managed to find my way there on my own and felt like I might actually find my way around this country some day maybe.

After I returned home I got a call from the telephone guy to schedule getting that set up and he will come tomorrow. I got through four loads of laundry – not as much as it sounds like, European machines are smaller than in the USA – and read and relaxed. The cable guy showed up at 4:30 (he was scheduled to come between noon and 5pm) and the electrician some time later. Terry showed up in the midst of all this and informed me that he had in fact obtained our car today and Malta is now our oyster because we have transit that won’t make him sick. While the workmen were doing their work, our landlord came by so we could go over the inventory and sign off on it. It turns out there are a few items he plans to give us that we haven’t received yet, so we can look forward to them. He also showed me the pool pump and where the lights and Jacuzzi function switches are. Summertime parties at my house!

Interesting factoid – in Malta, what we would call a dustpan is called a shovel.

May 9, 2007
It is amazing how small setbacks can send you into tears but small victories can also completely make one’s day. I ran to the produce vendor to get some parsley, which we have been needing for about a week now, and she gave it to me free! Now I am just waiting for the telephone guy to show up and get that installed, then I am off to the embassy to try to get things moving on the Kirby front.

May 10, 2007
Sometimes my own naivetĂ© amazes me. The telephone guy showed up only about 15 minutes late, not too bad … about an hour and a half later he came to ask if I minded if he went out for ½ hour to have something for lunch. I can’t say no to that! So almost an hour later he returns, and finishes about an hour later. Yup, I spent almost the whole day with this telephone guy.

One thing I do need to note. Before we came, even Maltese people told me that nobody would ever be on time. If an appointment was for 10am, the person may arrive around 11:30am. So far, the people I have dealt with have uniformly been punctual. The telephone guy was all of 15 minutes late, and you can’t even get better service than that in the USA


Concerned C-villian said...

Reading all of your travel adventures, it came to me that maybe you two should write a book...or just you Lynne. You've kept me entertained since the beginning of our friendship, and so I thought it would be a fun idea and kill some time before the mini-Poczak came along.

Concerned C-villian said...


Terry - Make your wifey sit still and not push herself. I know she can be a little firecracker, but she must take it easy!!

Concerned C-villian said...

One more thing in regards to this blog [hey it was a long blog]: If you do write a book, here is my suggestion for the title, "Knocked Up in a Foreign Land." I think it really has the shock value that people crave.

Terry said...

I love the book title.

Lynne said...

Mini-Poczak my foot! How about mini-Madnick?

Concerned C-villian said...

Hey Lynne, you took his name, so it's mini-Poczak. It's going to be the best of both of you.
Also, I didn't get to see the picture of your house. Send another one.
I hope all is going well with the two of you. I wanna give a shout out to my peeps in the floaty land, Malta...Wud up!!

Lynne said...

Actually, I didn't take his name. The only time you will see Lynne and Poczak together is the email address, because that is the domain name. So nya nya.