Sunday, June 22, 2014

Finding Beauty in Small Details

In one respect, the following is only tangentially related to life in the Foreign Service. But on the other hand, it is about finding beauty (and humor) in the small details of unfamiliar, seemingly unpleasant or uncomfortable environments - which is all about life in the Foreign Service. 

I hope to write this more via pictures than words.  I'm also including a link to a friend's blog where he documents 101 changes in his life - both good and bad - in the past year since his wife signed on the dotted line with the State Department and they moved to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.  

When my husband, the Tabbies and I drove west from Virginia to Ciudad Juarez over one year ago, we were somewhat prepared for living in a desert environment.  By "prepared," I mean that we obviously understood that it would be dry, beige, hot and windy.  It wasn't too many hours' drive out of Dallas that and got our first glimpse of the scenery in West Texas and the Northern Chihuahua desert and what our lives would be like for the next two years.  This was the first view from the car window:

We got your wide-open spaces here, alright.

Now I see why there are so many train songs in country music.

We began to explore our new home, and little by little, began to find beauty in the desert landscape. It's often a subtle beauty:
A small patch of standing water along the highway made us hit the brakes one day. 

Sidewalk markets are reliable sources of color and beauty. 

When flowers won't grow on their own.

Beauty persists in the toughest of conditions. 

But then again, sometimes it's a big, awesome beauty, which could compete with the architectural beauty of any cathedral:

Moonrise over the desert.

Sunrise makes waking up early worth it. 

Our own cathedral spires.

Besides being able to find beauty in a new environment, and recognizing and appreciating things simply because they're NOT what you're used to, finding humor in the face of sometimes ridiculousness is also necessary. Like when it rained last summer and the major avenues flooded.  (Driving on the sidewalks or in oncoming lanes can be exhilarating and oddly freeing!)

 Yes, that's a rebar fence hidden in the depths. 

I'll now hand you over to our correspondent in the Congo, for his take on what changes a year can bring to a life.  What I liked about this slideshow is that he picks up on this theme of noticing the beauty, the humor, and often the exasperation of life in a new environment. This collection illustrates my motto: when in doubt - do whatever will make a better story later!

Life Changes


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Scorching in the Southland

It is June 1st which in the borderlands, which means that triple-digit temps for weeks on end are fair game.  Last year I missed spending the entire month of June in Juarez as I was in Monterrey (where it was only 98 and humid), so this will be a first.  But when I came home, I witnessed what 30 days of 100+ degrees can do to one's garden, parching the life out of even my flowering desert succulents and sending them to a place from where they never returned.  This year I've tried a different variety of flowering succulents so we'll see if I have a different result.  I hope so, because they're quite charming. (I was planning on inserting a picture of them here, so I just went out into the garden to snap the photo and found their little blossoms shut tight for business. Hurrumph.)
But at least the bougainvillea are happy and willing to show off (there are two more pots with three different colors, if I may brag). 

Here is our work-week forecast:

A picture is worth a thousand "DAMN but it's HOT!"s

Please also notice that even though we have some cloud cover coming in, the chance of rain remains at, oh, zero percent. 

What do you do when it's this hot? Adapt.

We do the laundry a little differently now:

By the time we finish hanging a line's worth, the first items are already dry.  Something to do with the less-than-30% humidity perhaps?  I couldn't fathom turning on the dryer at a time like this. Please also note our camping tarp and tent poles my husband put together to make a nice shady spot.  (No, it's not the southern screened porch I've always wanted to be sittin' and sippin' under, but it works great and we don't have kudzu to contend with, so there.)

The Tabbies have adapted too. Toby, who is definitely from Scandinavian stock and has a double coat, goes outside for less than two minutes, just enough time to do the sniffing rounds of the garden and then safely retreat to his air conditioned 74 degree living room couch.  Dodger and Daphne, obviously born in damp and mild Washington state by accident, stretch out under the bushes FOR HOURS at a time.  Now before anyone starts firing off a cat mistreatment complaint, let me assure you that it's THEIR idea. Dodger especially begs to go out there; they are never left unattended, and there's a bowl of water right next to them.  They just soak the warmth up into their 16 year old bones and couldn't be happier. 

Last night my husband and I went to the schmancy mall near our house for dinner and a movie.  It was the type of movie I'd usually wait to see on DVD, but the excuse to get into a climate-controlled comfortable environment other than our own living room was too enticing.  We found about ten thousand other Juarenses had the same idea and we had to circle the parking lot looking for a spot like it was Christmas.  In my eagerness to find a movie that wasn't Godzilla, I didn't notice that the one I picked was dubbed in Spanish.  We usually go to the subtitled movies, and when the nice movie theater cashier heard our choice, she quickly warned us, "You know this is in Spanish, right? They'll be talking only Spanish in this movie and not English.  Do you want to pick something else instead?"  Okay, I shouldn't be surprised that she deftly figured out we weren't from around here when we walked up to the counter, but heck chica, I was ordering the tickets IN SPANISH.  But she had a point, as it would be our first no-handrail movie.  I'm pleased to say that we understood at least 80%, even if my husband admitted to reading the actors' lips and any other confusion was cleared up by context clues.  Besides, it wasn't a really dialog-driven movie, if you know what I mean.  All in all, we had a good evening and when we pulled out of the mall parking lot at 9:30 pm, it was still in the 90s.

So that's how we pass the time and survive the scorch in the desert. It's not so bad, really. Come back in a few weeks and see if I've changed my opinion.