Journey to the Center of the Universe

Leave a comment Standard

I thought that November flew by, but December really must have set the record in my book for quickest month in the history of months.  I knew it was going to be difficult to be away from my family during the holidays, so I was quite honestly dreading how this was all going to go down, but turns out, fate had other plans in mind.

So my father has been battling some minor heart issues on and off for years and years.  We have a history of heart problems in my family so he is quite often getting checked out, monitoring his heart, making sure to fit in exercise and the right meds to keep on track, but he had an electrical problem in his heart that just simply would not resolve itself.  Well after trying this, that, and everything else they could think of, it was time to resort to surgery to get things settled.  Low risk?  Sure.  But I was worried, and my boss could tell.  We talked about it and decided that i would never regret going home for the surgery, and it was better to be safe than sorry.  So I booked a last minute flight and was happy to see this smiling face when I stepped off the plane:

My Mom!!!

My Mom!!!

We drove home from Chicago, catching up on this and that, and I spent the rest of the weekend around home.  It was so wonderful to catch up with my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and of course my goofy siblings.  And of COURSE I was so excited to see these little ladies and read them a long-overdue story.  They still remember me, so that’s good.

Frozen, of course

Frozen, of course

We headed to the hospital on Monday morning, and wished dad all the luck in the world with his procedure.  As we were leaving his hospital room as they were preparing to take him into surgery, my mom spoke to the nurse and asked them please not to remove my father’s wedding ring, as he has never taken it off “since I put it on him.”  Woa.

**I’m getting a little verklempt…talk amongst yourselves.**

They agreed that they’d leave it on and we walked out to the waiting room, full of anxiety and trying to keep emotions in check.  He was going to be fine.  Yes he was yes he was yes he was.  Because I said so.

Now, something you need to know about the Cains is that they are THERE FOR EACH OTHER.  So sure enough, 1/4 of the massive waiting room became overrun with family, waiting around to hear the news on Dad’s procedures.  We did bagel and pizza runs, caught up with each other, and tried keeping our mind off the situation at hand.  I addressed Christmas cards, Mel attempted to do homework, but mostly we just sat around.  And waited.

Naturally, the only time I left the waiting room in 7 hours (to go get drinks for everyone), the doctor came in to update my mom on how dad’s procedure went.  We were so pleased to learn that everything went as good as could possibly be expected, and he was in recovery now.  We alerted the Cains, they all breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and everyone else went home.

We went to Dad’s room, and naturally after a long procedure like that he was considerably groggy, and in a lot of pain from lying flat on a table for most of the day.  Unfortunately he wasn’t allowed to get up and walk around yet, so we tried every means possible to get him more comfortable, ultimately asking his nurse to hop him up on some pain pills until he was allowed to move.  Shannon and mom played super nurse, I think my only contribution was taking dad’s socks off cuz his feet were hot.  I get awkward in hospital rooms, as it turns out. But not as awkward as Mel 🙂

The girls gave PaPaw kisses and we decided that most of us should leave and let Dad rest, Mom would stay behind.  We departed the hospital after a LONG and very emotionally draining day, and decided there was only one way to end such a stressful day:

YES

YES

Chorizo and cheese sauce makes everything better

Chorizo and cheese sauce makes everything better

Happily Dad was released from the hospital soon after, and I got to spend the rest of the trip at home making sure he lived according to the doctor’s instructions (you tell my father not to lift over 10 pounds…see how well he takes that.)  He’s one of the most independent, self-sufficient, always-gotta-be-doing-something guy I’ve ever met, and the fact that he wasn’t allowed to pick up his nieces or even refill the humidifier drove him nuts, so we hunkered down with LOTR marathons and lots of naps.

Over the next couple days I did whatever I could to soak up as much “home” as possible before heading back to Sarajevo:

The original, thank you very much.  (Also, dad loves being in pictures)

The original, thank you very much. (Also, dad loves being in pictures)

Lots of staring at the tree for no reason at all

Lots of staring at the tree for no reason at all

Opening early Christmas presents with the girls (Yes, I bought them food.  It's their favorite thing!)

Opening early Christmas presents with the girls (Yes, I bought them food. It’s their favorite thing!)

New kicks from Aunt B

New kicks from Aunt B

Met Shannon and her crew for the greatest pizza in Monticello.  Ahhh 4-H Camp memories...

Met Shannon and her crew for the greatest pizza in Monticello. Ahhh 4-H Camp memories…

Yes, most of my pics are food themed.  What's your point?

Yes, most of my pics are food themed. What’s your point?

Before I knew it, it was time to go home…ouch.  The good news is that I had a visits from Shannon, Mel and Phil coming up, a trip home in April to look forward to, MORE family visits over the summer and fall…this goodbye was significantly less difficult than the last one.  But of course I miss my family to pieces, so I still hated saying goodbye anyway.  Thank you to modern technology for allowing me to text and video chat with them as often as I want.  I couldn’t imagine doing this job even 10 years ago before those options existed.

Shannon’s friend Ashley offered to drive me up to Chicago since my family was attending a wedding on the day I flew out, so we made our way up to the suburbs so I could fit in a quick visit with my Chicago friends en route to the airport.  I was SO thrilled that Laura (and Everly!), Scott, Jeri (and Bailey!), Danni and Ryan were able to meet me for lunch before my plane took off.  I stuffed myself with yet another American comfort food (sinfully rich Mac and Cheese) and headed for O’Hare.  With a heavy heart I headed back across the pond towards my life and my work.

It was INCREDIBLE that I got to see some of my family and friends over this quick trip home despite the crappy circumstances, and I was so sad that I didn’t get a chance to sneak in a trip to St. Louis, see my braintrust, attend Tony and Traci’s wedding, or ever really adjust to the jet lag in such a short amount of time.  But I have a trip home in April to look forward to, so that made things easier to process.  Thank you to EVERYONE for your kind words regarding Dad’s surgery, to my boss and coworker for covering for me at work while I was gone, to my family and friends who took time out of their busy lives to spend time with me…I love you all more than I could ever possibly say.

And more than anything, thanks to this crazy guy for every single thing he’s done for me throughout these 30 years.  Everything I have, everything I have ever accomplished is owed in part to his example of what hard work should look like.  I love you, Dad!

dad

 

Advertisements

I didn’t blog in November…my bad

Leave a comment Standard

I am not great at blogging.  I mean once I sit down to write the thing I think I do ok, but getting myself to sit down at a computer and write a post after sitting at a computer all day at work is quite a feat.  I tend to start out very strong with the blog posts and slllloooooowly they get less frequent until I forget about the thing entirely.  Luckily I have friends and family members who keep me on track, letting me know exactly how long it’s been since I posted.  OK FINE I guess it’s time.

How about this post covers the entire month of November, eh?

I Feel Pretty

The different branches of the Armed Services tend to throw balls (ha) every year, and since Marines provide Embassy security, we get to celebrate with them every year on/around their birthday.  This was my very first Marine Ball and I am quite certain it will not be my last.  Since I live in a part of the world where women are tall and thin (and I am not quite those things,) I needed to look elsewhere for dresses, and happily found a gorgeous beaded one online from Macys.  I re-used shoes from my years of bridesmaid-ing, and opted to do my own hair and makeup.  (Ladies, learn how to do your own updos.  It will save you tremendous amounts of time and money in the long run, I can promise you that.)  This was my result.

Is it just me or does the beading on the dress slightly resemble the Death Star?  Cuz that's what I see.

Is it just me or does the beading on the dress slightly resemble the Death Star? Cuz that’s what I see.

I didn’t have a date (I mean when do I ever?) so I attended with a group of my military friends who were all looking mighty fine in their formal attire.  It was honestly an incredibly fun night, full of laughing and dancing, and I’m so glad I went!  In looking ahead for next year, I’m already starting to mentally prepare myself to work up to the double cheek kiss greeting (I’m so damn awkward) and planning to perhaps invest in a less beaded dress next year.  I kept snagging a strand and leaving a trail of slippery beads wherever I went.  Not quite the effect I was going for.

Zee Germans

This job has many hardships, though if I’m being honest the perks outweigh them by a landslide.  One such perk is being sent to Germany for 4 days for training classes and meetings.  I got to go to the US Consulate in Frankfurt for a few days, and enjoyed an insane amount of pork (often hard to come by in these parts,) the always outstanding selection of Apfelwein (cider) and many beer options, seeking out good Asian food, and practicing my extremely rusty German language skills.  Oh, and the Starbucks.  Mustn’t forget the Starbucks.

**Side note: When I lived in the US I maybe MAAAAAYBE got Starbucks once a month, if that.  Suddenly I am an expat and the first thing I do when I leave Bosnia is find a Starbucks.  What’s that about?  I was never obsessed with it before.  Where is this coming from?**

I met a friend from the 132nd who was also there for training, and we walked all around Frankfurt, seeing the sights and eating all of the things.  Sad to say I missed the Christmas Market by ONE WEEK!  They were setting those little wood houses up everywhere, and I made a mental note to make SURE I got to a Christmas market next year.

Now don’t get it twisted, the main reason I took this trip was to work, and I got to spend plenty of time in the Consulate building, a former German hospital that may or may not be haunted.  The original marble staircases remain and have deep grooves from the many years of use.  I’m told that ghosts are not uncommon, and that the security guards have even reported seeing them.  I’d believe it.  I’m used to the Embassy in Sarajevo, where I could walk from one end of the building to the other in less than a minute…the Consulate was a different story.  I was glad I wore comfortable shoes because the compound is MASSIVE and I got lost multiple times trying to find my way here and there.  Some pics of Frankfurt for you to enjoy:

Memorial for the books that the Nazis burned

Memorial for the books that the Nazis burned

Pork, slices apples, spaetzel, and gravy.  I LOVE GERMAN FOOD

Pork, slices apples, spaetzel, and gravy. I LOVE GERMAN FOOD

Romerplatz - city square rebuilt to look the way it did before the WWII bombings

Romerplatz – city square rebuilt to look the way it did before the WWII bombings

Not a ton of pics, worked most of the time and when I was out and about it tended to be raining.  Ohhhh well.

My first Foreign Service Holiday

I feel like there are certain milestones in my life that I can point to and say “That, that right there made me feel like a grownup.”  Buying my first home.  Getting a headboard and not just using a metal bed frame.  Realizing I can’t wear flip flops all day because it will make my feet hurt.  Oh, I don’t know, moving across the world.  And most recently, hosting my very first Thanksgiving.  I have a great group of friends here that are all without their families as well and we decided to join together for turkey and fixins’, parades, football, and booze.  The Embassy did a bulk order of fresh turkeys from a nearby farm, I dry brined the thing overnight in the fridge and the next day gently separated the skin from the bird and massaged herb butter allllllll over it.  Then I covered the turkey in a lattice of Bosnian Bacon, lined the bottom of the pan with veggies, and hoped for the best.  And oh, was it the best:

Bacon Turkey.  Burkey?  Turkon?

Bacon Turkey. Burkey? Turkon?

I spent a tremendous amount of time researching recipes, shopping, prepping, and cooking mashed potatoes and INCREDIBLE gravy, green bean casserole, scalloped pineapple, cornbread stuffing, and homemade pecan pie and pumpkin pie tarts (only because I don’t own two pie pans so I had to improvise.)  Bosnia doesn’t have nearly the amount of pre-made ingredients that I’m used to, so this was great practice in making things from scratch.  If I say so myself, things turned out pretty well, and I stuffed myself silly in the company of my friends.

Pecan Pie and Pumpkin Pie tarts

Pecan Pie and Pumpkin Pie tarts

Ta daaaaaaaa!

And there you have it: my month of November.  December is already halfway over so yeah…you’ll probably get that post at the end of January.  Don’t judge me!! :/

What has Brenda been up to?

Comment 1 Standard

So a dear friend pointed out that I hadn’t posted in a couple weeks, and she hoped that it was because I was having so much fun over here that I simply couldn’t carve out the time to post anymore.  I realized that was partly true, and that I had some mini stories to tell to my faithful readers that you may or may not care about.  Here we go!

Brenda tries not to die

So if you read my Istanbul post you’ll know that I was battling some kind of nasty sickness that seemed to subside halfway through my trip.  Well I got back home, had a few more days of pseudo-good health, and then BOOM, everything changed.  I was battling crazy high fevers, alternating between freezing/burning up, had zero energy, coughed incessantly and had a terrible time catching my breath.  It became clear that it was time to seek professional medical attention.  I went to one of the Embassy doctors, they checked me out and decided that it was really likely that I had pneumonia, and I received a good scolding for waiting as long as I did to go to the dr.  I was given 5 days of crazy strong antibiotics, an nebulizer for breathing treatments 2x a day, and was put on bed rest for 4 days.  No work, no nothing.  It’s the most sick days I’d ever taken at one time in my life, and it was not a great week.

Not happy

Not happy

I slept about 16 hours a day, watched basically the entire Netflix catalog, and took the opportunity to recharge my batteries.  4 days at home seems like a dream, I’m sure, but when you live alone it is terrible.  Nobody to talk to, nobody to bring you Sprite.  Nobody to wake you up at 2:00am when you need to take more cough medicine.  Luckily my friends here seriously stepped up to the plate, and took amazing care of me.  I had more offers than I could count of people asking what I needed at the store, bringing me food, watching movies with me…I was so incredibly touched by everyone’s care and generosity, I’m a very lucky girl to be here with these amazing people.  I’m happy to report I now have a clean bill of health, and am making sure that I don’t push myself quite as hard between work and play anymore.

Brenda becomes a superhero

I was pretty hesitant to find a new hairdresser here in Sarajevo. I looooooooved my old stylist from the STL area (Hi Natasha!!) and knew it was going to be really hard to fill her shoes.  Finally my stupid grey hairs (ugh) started showing and it was clear I needed to find someone local.  It was suggested that I check out a local salon who’s owner grew up in Chicago, was great with cuts and color, and who spoke ENGLISH!  I made an appointment for some fun fall color.  My hairdresser was incredibly sweet and helpful and agreed to give me some fun fall color.  I love red in the fall and we decided on a bold red with light highlights, and it was going to be great.  She added the color, and I loved it.  It was such a gorgeous shade and she did an incredible job!  I looked like a damn superhero, and loved it.

…and then a few days later, I decided I just didn’t look like me.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t get used to the bright red hair I saw in the mirror.  I talked to my hairdresser and begged her to let me come back and change things up, and she was SO helpful in coming up with ways to tone down the red and save the day.  I spent 3.5 hours in her chair for my follow up appointment and took up her whole morning, but she was so sweet and kind and took amazing care of me.  I’m happy to report I’ve still got red hair, but with highlights and lowlights added in, and I LOOOOOOVE it.  I will definitely be returning to her salon.

Before and After

Before and After

Brenda becomes a murderer

So an unfortunate part of the foreign service lifestyle is how often your new friends get another posting and leave you behind.  One of the very first people I met in this country had their tour end, and he and his wife were getting ready to pack out from their apartment in Sarajevo.  They had an amazing rooftop patio lined with houseplants, and were desperate to give them good homes.  I was happy to oblige, and took in several of their “harder to kill” varieties as I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to keeping plants alive.

Hello new friends!

Hello new friends!

Long story short, four of them are now close to dead one month later.  And people seriously want me to bring kids into the world?!

Brenda gets super old

My 30th Birthday was on October 4th, a Saturday.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I had a lot of anxiety about turning 30, I’m actually pretty thrilled with where I am in my life right now, but I do have kind of a birthday curse that has followed me around for the past 8 years or so, I purposely kept bday plans very low key or nonexistent because when I planned something, I could pretty much guarantee something awful was going to happen.  But this year my friends decided I needed to celebrate, and offered to throw me a Birthday BBQ at their house.  We had an enormous cooler of beer, a counter full of liquor, a grill full of delicious grilled chicken and sausage,  homemade birthday mac and cheese, cheesecakes, and a house full of my friends.  I was so touched with gratitude, (again these people take amazing care of me here,) and I had a great time entering my 30’s!

Complete with candles, for crying out loud

Complete with candles, for crying out loud

***

So there you have it, a few summaries of the things I’ve been up to here.  While we don’t have pumpkin patches and apple orchards here for me to enjoy, this has been a great fall, and I am feeling pretty great right now.  Missing my family and friends back home like crazy, and I hate that I’m missing their big life events (having kids, turning 30, losing loved ones, losing and getting jobs, etc.)  Hoping to plan a trip home in early 2015, will keep you posted with those specifics so I can maximize my visits.  Love you all, thank you all so much for checking in and supporting me in this crazy lifestyle, I’m so lucky to have you in my life 🙂

~B

 

Istanbul

Leave a comment Standard

So little brother Nate decided to book a trip to Europe, and we weren’t quite able to work Sarajevo into his itinerary this time.  Instead we looked at destinations where I could easily meet him for a few days, and we settled on Istanbul.  Such an enormous, ancient, historical place seemed like an excellent way to spend a few days, the shopping would just be the icing on the cake. I’d only been at post for about two months and felt a little funny trying to take off work already, but then sat down and thought about it…I haven’t taken any vacation days since December.  That is a long time.  So happily my boss agreed and I booked a short flight to see baby brudder!

We slowly started doing our respective research, and booked a room at the Cheers Hostel right in the heart of the Sultanahmet district.  I feel like I’m getting a little old/fussy for hostels, but this one had SUCH great reviews, had private rooms, and the location simply couldn’t be beat.  I was scheduled to arrive around noon on Sunday, Nate would arrive around 5 and we’d begin or exploration.

So the week before my trip hit, and I just started to feel like someone had let the air out of my tires.  I was exhausted, constantly bouncing between freezing cold and burning up, and no matter how much I slept I couldn’t seem to feel rested.  Unfortunately it was one of those weeks of work where calling in sick just wasn’t an option, so I quarantined myself into my office whenever possible, and looked a lot like this:

me at workThe weekend hit, and I was actually worse.  Had an official fever, nasty coughing, runny nose, the whole deal.  But DAMN IT this was my vacation!!  So I shut myself into the apartment all weekend (missing a trivia night and a good friend’s birthday party) and slept.  And kept sleeping.  And slept some more.  I woke up for the airport on Sunday morning and still had a nasty fever, but much like a frustrated parent might do to get their kid into daycare, I pumped my body full of Tylenol and decided yup, this was happening.  I hopped on a plane and promptly fell asleep, sleeping a solid two hours before touching down in Istanbul.  I grabbed the nearest cab, showed him my destination, and took in the lovely sights of the coast as we drove to the old part of the city towards my hostel.  We got a little lost along the way, and (despite what I’d heard about Turkish cab drivers) this guy was insanely kind and patient and called my hostel several times to get directions.  I could understand his confusion, the streets were bonkers.

I got to the hostel, checked in, walked up to my room on the 7th floor of a walkup (just shy of 100 curvy steps) and promptly slept for another 2 hours.  By this rate, this trip was going to prove pretty interesting.  I pulled myself together, showered, and dragged my poor pathetic self to the lobby to wait for Nate to arrive.  It was SO great to see him!!  We took his bag up to the room, and decided to wander around the city a bit before settling on dinner at Medusa, a lovely little outdoor patio with great Turkish food.  After a little more strolling around, I begged Nate to forgive me, and told him I needed to go to bed.  He was very kind, accompanied me back to the room, and I was asleep by around 8:00pm.  Quite the raging start to our vacation, to say the least.

***

I woke up Monday and felt like a new woman!  My energy was back, my fever had broken, and breathing was much easier.  Things were looking up, but just to be sure we made our way to the nearest Pharmacy and stocked up on the Turkish equivalent of Sudafed.  We ate our complimentary breakfast at the Hostel (typical fare: bread, jam, cheese, hard boiled eggs, fruits, veggies, tea and coffee.)  I ordered a coffee and promptly spilled about half of it making my way to the table…this is why I can’t have nice things.  (It embarrassed me so much I ordered tea the rest of the trip.)

Instead of listing all of the individual sights we saw, most of them with funny names and similar looking architecture, I’ll let you look at some gorgeous pictures of the things we saw!

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque - my favorite shot of the trip

Inside the Blue Mosque – my favorite shot of the trip

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View from the Galata Tower

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Standard pensive shot (sorry, no “My Domain” arms, we were in close quarters)

Süleymaniye Mosque (The Magnificent!)

Süleymaniye Mosque (The Magnificent!)

Foot-washing station outside of the Süleymaniye Mosque

Foot-washing station outside of the Süleymaniye Mosque

One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar (bonkers!!)

One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar (bonkers!!)

Gorgeous view of the Blue Mosque from a nearby rooftop bar

Gorgeous view of the Blue Mosque from a nearby rooftop bar

Whirling Dervishes - men that get into a deep state of prayer and twirl around.  Actually more impressive than it sounds.

Whirling Dervishes – men that get into a deep state of prayer and twirl around. Actually more impressive than it sounds.

Overheard in Hagia Sofia -  Nate: "Well look at that hairy angel"

Overheard in Hagia Sofia – Nate: “Well look at that hairy angel”

Nate's fancy dinner, cooked in a flaming clay pot.  Kind of awesome!

Nate’s fancy dinner, cooked in a flaming clay pot. Kind of awesome!

 

 

 

Sorry, lots of pictures, hard to pick just a couple!  As far as shopping goes, I got VERRRRRRY tired of the aggressive salesmen and haggling.  Despite these drawbacks I still managed to take home a small prayer-sized Turkish rug, a scarf, and “Evil Eye” that will serve as my Turkish Christmas ornament.  We sampled doner kebaps (beef, lamb, and chicken), mixed grills, amazing hummus and bread, calamari, pasta, and while we did enjoy the food, I did find myself wishing for some more variety after a few days.  So we sought out a Thai restaurant named CokCok (awesome) and got our fix, sort of.  We were both hoping for noodle dishes and they seemed to specialize in rice, oh well.

As far as the atmosphere itself was concerned, the city was gorgeous and full of life.  Tourist from all over the globe were there, the streets were lined with colorful lamps and lanterns, delicious smells came from bakeries (baklava!) and from restaurants with glorious displays of rotating roasted meat.  and everywhere you looked people were having a great time.  It was interesting seeing all of the different types of tourists there, from Americans in their tennis shoes to those that were on spiritual pilgrimages.  Women in tank tops and shorts, women completely covered from head to toe (in black no less, in the hot sun!).  English was plentiful, and we had no trouble communicating with anyone.

One thing that really got on my nerves – cameras.  Nobody could simply take a couple of shots and then put their cameras down and take in their surroundings.  I was CONSTANTLY fighting with tourist shoving their SLRs into my face, blocking my view, cutting off my path, and basically making the experience less enjoyable for everyone.  Don’t even get me started on the selfies.  I will admit Nate and I took a few, we wanted a couple of pics together and I don’t know about you, but handing my phone/camera off to strangers tends to be hit or miss when it comes to quality.  But man, we were at the top of the Galata Tower, overlooking incredible views of Istanbul on all sides, and this chick in front of us took (not kidding) about 100 selfies total.  It was incredible, she wasn’t even changing her pose from shot to shot.  And she was doing it from an IPAD!!  AAAAAH!

***

So anyway, after bashing selfies I’ll leave you with one of my favorites from the trip.  Had a wonderful time catching up with Nate and seeing a new city.  Until the next adventure!

istanbul selfie

 

I used to live within a few hours of Indiana Beach…this is a little different

Comment 1 Standard

So Bosnia has treated me very well, and I’m settling in here nicely, but I was ready for a change of scenery.  My car isn’t here yet, so I posted on a Facebook site for expats that I needed some suggestions, stating that I was looking for a few tours I could do over Labor Day weekend.  Wouldn’t you know it, one of my awesome coworkers (I will call her C, I had literally met her only one time in the cafeteria…we probably spoke for all of 45 seconds at this point) offered me an amazing opportunity.  She was headed to Trogir, Croatia, and did I want a ride?  And did I want to stay in an inexpensive apartment with a view of the water?  And did I want to hang out with someone who actually spoke the language?

Um…yes.  A quick Google search confirmed it: Trogir was going to be awesome.

So we left on Saturday morning and started the 5ish hour drive to the coast.  On the way down, C wanted to stop in Mostar and I was happy to oblige.  This?  This is Mostar.

Nope, I didn't take this pic

Nope, I didn’t take this pic

The stones on the bridge are worn smooth, very slippery and kind of perilous

The stones on the bridge are worn smooth, very slippery and kind of perilous

Mostar is an amazing old town with an iconic bridge crossing the gorgeous green water of the Neretva River.  We wandered around a bit, had a coffee, visited some shops, and then decided it was time to get on the road, and make our way to the beach.  (I have every intention of returning for a longer visit.)  After many hours, C’s expert driving landed us in Trogir, making our way through the tiiiiiiiiny roads that would lead us to our apartment for the weekend, who belonged to C’s friend’s mother.  We arrived, shared a beer with our landlord for the weekend, and headed upstairs to be greeted by this view:

trogir apt

We changed, had a snack, and then took the opportunity to stretch our legs and head out exploring.  We wandered around on the beach, enjoyed dinner and the sunset, stocked up on a few groceries, and headed back to the apartment.  After some ice cream and red wine, we were spent for the day and decided to turn in.

The next morning we were on a mission : time to find a beach.  The main beach along the boardwalk was fine, but C got some advice on finding some off the beaten path.  After driving a few minutes to another part of the island, we found it.

trogir beach

Woa

So gorgeous (not just the water, amiright?)

So gorgeous (not just the water, amiright?)

We laid in the sun, enjoyed swimming in the crystal clear waters, relaxed, and generally just enjoyed the day.  After about as much sun as this ginger could stand, we headed back to the apartment for a shower, (and in my case, a quick nap), then headed into the old part of the city, a Unesco World Heritage Site!

trogir balcony trogir church trogir unesco

We wandered around the city (amazing architecture, so much to see!), enjoyed a Radler (half lemonade, half beer) in the town square, did some shopping, and enjoyed a most excellent seafood dinner at Restaurant Kamerlengo. I ordered shrimp scampi, and to my surprise, these were presented to me:

Well, this is awkward

Well, this is awkward

I’m sure there are parts of the world where serving entire shrimp to a person is completely normal.  Let me tell you, my Midwest upbringing did not prepare me for this.  C gave me some pointers on how to eat them, and I think I did an ok job.  (Was unsure what to do with the heads, I got creeped out so I left them untouched.)  At any point, regardless of the creep factor and the extra effort, the shrimp were crazy delicious.  I loved getting to watch the “kitchen” at work, basically an old Croatian dude standing in front of a wood burning grill, throwing on fresh seafood and chatting with customers.

We spent some more time walking around and taking in the city, caught this gorgeous sunset as we made out way back to the water taxi towards the apartment.

Bliss

Bliss

That night as I slept, a CRAZY thunderstorm rolled in, woke everyone up and took out our electricity.  (Took out the fan in my room and the AC unit in C’s room!)  The next morning, discouraged by the rainy weather headed our way, we begrudgingly made our way back to Bosnia.  Unfortunately we were not the only ones doing so, we got caught for nearly an hour crossing the bridge out of Trogir, stopped at the border crossing back into Bosnia, and were heavily delayed by crazy rainstorms that threatened our journey.  The drive home took WAAAAAY longer than it was supposed to, but the trip was so worth it.

BIG thanks to C for letting me tag along on your trip, thanks for showing me the ropes and how to make the most out of my time here in Bosnia.  Looking forward to many more trips during my tour here.

trogir feet

Settling in

Comment 1 Standard

Dreadfully sorry that I haven’t updated the blog, since my last sad panda posting.  You are probably all out there thinking that I’m sitting around, clutching my American flag, rushing to McDonalds every chance I get, and slowly sobbing myself to sleep while browsing the photobook my sister made for me before I left.  Well, I am thrilled to announce that after one particularly low weekend, everything has changed.

I don’t know if it was simply admitting that I needed help, or just time working its magic, but I’ve found myself newly fascinated by this place, excited to explore, and ready to establish friendships with the expats in my community.  I’ve enjoyed movie nights with friends, backyard BBQs, bowling, house parties, sitting at cafes with a Coke, large amounts of window shopping at the expensive malls here, stocking up on groceries at the outdoor market, and a trip to the casino to witness an expat poker night.  (Oh and obviously, WORK!)  I’ve accepted every invitation that has come my way, which is both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.  I have been keeping myself really busy, which is my favorite thing.  Overall let’s just say I’m feeling the love for Sarajevo once again, and I have my new friends here to thank for that.

***

Enough of that mushy stuff, let’s talk about the fact that I have most of my STUFF now!  So I’ve been living without my things since early February, living in hotels, furnished corporate apartments, and finally a large apartment in Sarajevo with a loaner welcome kit to get me by until my stuff arrives.  I’ve had access to about half of my clothes and shoes, my coffee maker, my good towels, and a few framed pictures that accompanied me from place to place.  I know it seems silly to miss material possessions that much, but I really, truly did miss my belongings!  My movie collection, framed pics from my travels, my favorite omelet pan, photo albums, and I think most of all: MY BEDDING.

So in the FS you get a couple different shipments, the first one you should receive is your UAB – unaccompanied air baggage.  Typically this is the first box you receive after arrival, and as a single I got 250 pounds.  I did just a HORRIBLE job packing up my UAB, completely miscalculated what I could and couldn’t buy here, and I’ll know better for next time.  The next shipment is your HHE – household effects, basically up to 7,000lbs of your personal belongings.  (Gotta love the government and their acronyms, amiright?)  Typically this can take anywhere from a couple weeks to several months to arrive, but luckily the staff here is ON POINT and are so insanely efficient that I was able to get my stuff to Sarajevo and cleared through customs within 3 weeks of arrival.  I’m blown away by the staff here and their ability to get. stuff. done.

So the movers showed up yesterday morning (around 6:30am), brought all the boxes upstairs (through the elevator, it is incredible how much easier life is with a damn elevator), unpacked, then took the packing materials away with them when they left.  They each got a hefty tip from me, I was blown away by their professionalism and efficiency.  So here I am, in my apartment, with all my stuff, and I’m suddenly wondering why I felt the need to bring my high school dance trophies with me.  Seemed like a valid decision at the time.

pivot

***

So my goal for the weekend is to get settled, this time not in an emotional sense, but a physical one.  Time to figure out how to fill a china cabinet, when you in fact, own zero pieces of china.  I’ve also got some wrestling to do with four chair slipcovers I purchased through Amazon, these things are enormous and look crazy sloppy, so I’ve got some tucking and pinning to do in order to get the look I’m going for.  Time for cleaning, and sorting, and picture frame placement.  Excited to have some familiarity back in my life, so if you’ll excuse me it’s time for a Friends marathon while I make this place look like my own 🙂

boxes boxes2

 

Culture Shock

Comment 1 Standard

So I went back and forth on writing this post, because it’s never fun to expose a low point in your life, a moment of self-doubt and worry.  But I suppose this is likely a pretty crucial part of my expat experience, why not address it and share it with the people I miss the most?

So my first 10ish days here, I was on cloud nine.  I was so excited to see everything, experience the culture, learn Bosnian, buy all of the things, and completely immerse myself into everything that Sarajevo had to offer.  I would listen to nearby conversations and delight in being able to pick out a word here and there, and in general I was in awe of everything.

Late last week, something switched.  Work was great and busy and exciting, but the minute I got home from work, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to leave the apartment, except for a quick trip to the grocery store.  Whenever I was out walking around, the incessant Bosnian being spoken around me suddenly started to grate on me, and suddenly I was worried that everyone was talking about me and pointing how ridiculous I was.  I went to the big malls here to immerse myself in commercialism (a true Western tradition), and even then was frustrated with European sizing, and the chaos of waiting for a fitting room.

I got home yesterday, and quite frankly kind of lost it.  I started doubting this job, my ability to live here alone, started feeling deeply sorry for myself, and got incredibly homesick.

Sad panda

Sad panda

I spoke with a friend of mine who has been living abroad for years, and he told me this was normal…this was culture shock.

So like any good Gen-Y person might do, I Googled it.  And wouldn’t you know it, I found article after article describing the exact things I was experiencing, describing the stages of culture shock.  I will summarize the ones I found from a website called “Twenty-something Travel” because I can still claim that status for a few months, there are variations in the name but the themes are all the same:

  • Honemoon Stage:  Excitement, intrigue, everything is new and different and everything is awesome.  I was here for about 10 days.
  • Frustration/Rage Stage: Everything is stressful, you begin to realize that every action you take is a little bit harder than it was back home.  You’re afraid of offending people, afraid of making a fool of yourself.  You miss your family, your friends, familiar food, your country.  Your language.  **I am here, and I wish that the honeymoon stage had lasted a little longer**
  • Understanding Stage: Basically, being able to laugh at yourself.  Accepting your terrible language skills but trying anyway.  Allowing yourself to go to an unfamiliar restaurant and try something you’ve never heard of (what’s the worst that could happen?), realizing that yes, everything is different, but its no longer a scary thought.
  • Acclimation Stage:  Acceptance, plain and simple.  The most rewarding stage to be in, and my goal is to spend as much time in this stage as possible.

****

So, even knowing that what I’m feeling is normal has helped, as cheesy as it sounds.  I had assumed that because this was a European city with good running water  and wifi and plentiful groceries and a low amount of danger, that I would be able to avoid the frustration of culture shock, but it appears I’m no exception to the rule.  I plan to buckle down, get over myself and put myself out there, knowing that shutting myself in my apartment with Netflix is only going to make things harder in the long run.

My plan is to start small, and set simple goals.  Today I walk around with my good camera and take pictures.  And I’ll get ice cream.  Maybe I’ll go see a big summer blockbuster at the nearby theater.  Next weekend I’ll make plans to hang with some people from the Embassy and play, maybe go to some restaurants and bars.  And little by little, I know that my anxiety and homesickness will pass, and I’ll find myself fascinated and entertained by my life in Sarajevo once again.  All I have to do is keep trying.

chris-traeger-not-lonely

I didn’t write this to get anyone to feel sorry for me, really I didn’t.  Mostly I just want to let you all know that my life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and perfect travel experiences and cool food and instagramed sunsets.  I struggle on a daily basis, and have to continue working to make this whole thing worthwhile.   I leave with you with my new mantra:

finish each day