Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Mission Accomplished Indeed!

We went to Eureka Campground this weekend for a little break from Lusaka, and to try out our new camping equipment. Eureka sits next to a small private game park. Resident in the small private game park are seven giraffes. We saw lots of giraffes. Or, more accurately, we saw seven giraffes many times.

We were also very pleased with all our REI purchases in Arlington. Our Hobitat 6 worked wonders. We used our blow-up mattress and slept well both nights, and the Hobitat's vestibule was a godsend when it poured rain on Saturday afternoon (thanks, Diana!) Jack and I slept through the rain in our lovely tent. Katherine and Sam took refuge in the campground's bar with our friends and played boggle.

Our tent, in all its 6'10" domed glory.

Comfortable inside, too. I took this photo at 5:40 AM. That's right. I was up at 5:40 AM on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. What the heck is wrong with me? Friday I slept until a comparably late 6:30.

You know you've graduated to car camping when you have the aerobed AND the pack 'n play.

Three of our seven new friends. On Saturday afternoon they walked kind of close to camp so Jack and I went out to look at them. He decided he wanted to hug them. I told them that he couldn't because they are wild animals.

He decided to hug them anyway, and started towards them. They, of course, ran off. Jack, of course, cried because he couldn't hug the giraffes. But at least the giraffes cooperated enough to be seen.

So we were able to follow and watch giraffes in their natural habitat three different times this weekend. We had zebras eating among our tents, saw a number of different types of antelope, hundreds of monkeys, a small herd of buffalo, and a bunch of ostriches. When we asked Jack what his favorite part of the weekend was, he said "eating marshmallows and finding that big stick!"

Photographic evidence of Jack finding his treasured stick, all the while oblivious to the giraffe in the background watching him. Or, perhaps, as he said, finding the stick was just much more important than seeing some silly giraffes.

So, Camping

We headed out Friday afternoon and met up with 3 other families. Eureka Camp is really only about 10 KM outside of Lusaka, but it feels like a much different place. Very peaceful.

Our neighbors in Lusaka (a colleague from USAID and his family), some of their friends from when they were in Rwanda, and another colleague and her husband were there, so we were 8 adults and 6 kids. A lovely group...and Sara and Dave were doubly courageous for joining us, as they were accompanied by Simon, their pug, and entered the chaos that is kids for the weekend.

Friday evening, getting dinner started.

Our neighbor, Ryan, makes a pretty mean bathtub beer, too, so we had a taste of his first batch of Lusaka home brew. A pretty good first effort. And as is neighbor, I intend to make myself available for any and all tests of future batches.

And dinner.

Dave did most of the cooking. He and Sara also shared their eggs, bacon and pancakes on Saturday morning, which was well-appreciated all around. This morning we broke out our new Coleman two-burner dual fuel camp stove. Unleaded gas. Worked like a charm. I think both Ryan and Dave are converts and will be picking up stoves for themselves.

Jack and his very own camp chair. And one of his good friends in Lusaka, his neighbor Maya. She's 5 so, you know, older woman and all that.

How does this animal not constantly trip over its own feet?

Thursday, November 26, 2009


It's nice to be back in a place with a yard. While our apartment in Kyiv was very central and huge, it was five floors up, which didn't make for decent yard possibilities.

Anyway, we are basically using our porch and yard as an extension of our house, which is smaller than the Kyiv apartment. Maybe a similar size to our house in Vientiane, but with a yard AND a pool.

Plus, the yard is pretty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Camping test

So we are going to brave the weather and head out into the great unknown this weekend. We figure it's time to try out our new camping gear, including our excellent new 6 person, 6'10" dome tent.

We're not going too far. The rains could chase us home. And we're okay with that. This is really just a test run...with a baby.

Anyway, we're heading 15KM south of town to Eureka! Camp. Or maybe it's Eureka Camp! It's hard to tell.

We're going with our neighbors, Embassy folk who are at USAID, and some of their friends.

It looks like the weather may just cooperate. At least through Saturday.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


So skype and video skype have been working quite well here.

If you are on skype and have a hankering for talking to or seeing us, look us up.

Birthday fun


Jack was very excited to have Happy Birthday sung to him.

We had 6 kids and a bunch of parents over for the party. It was drizzling most of the morning, but the sun broke through the clouds just after noon so the kids decided to hit the pool. It was the first big pool day for us, as it's been raining pretty steadily since the pool got all set up.

Sam was just happy to be part of the festivities.

Party Animal!

Jack's having his birthday party tomorrow. We've had a theme about things Jack likes of late, and giraffes have figured prominently in the "Animals that you like" category.

As such, Katherine and I came back from dinner out with friends to put the finishing touches on the cake.

It is, admittedly, not the most professional of animal shaped cakes, but I'm certain that it is 100% delicious.

Jack's just happy to be hanging out with Sam. Sam's still not so sure.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What have I become?

The embassy operates on a 4.5 day week here. We work 9 hours Monday through Thursdsay and get half-day Fridays, which is really nice on those Fridays when you can actually leave at mid-day.

Monday through Thursday, I work from about 7:45 to 5:45 or a bit later -- at least that's usually how it works out.

Jack's school is about 6 KM away in the opposite direction of work. His school starts at 7:30 am, but we can begin dropping him at about 7:15.

This is all to say that I am now getting up at about 6:20 every day during the week, which inevitably leads to the situation that I am in now.

It is 6:40 on a Saturday morning, I am awake, and I am unlikely to go back to sleep.

What the heck happened? I'm not a fan. I miss my late nights and sleeping in.

Friday, November 20, 2009

First (sort of) confirmed guest

Our friend Geoffrey is almost positive that he is likely to be flying through Jo'burg the weekend of January 30, and will detour a few hours north to spend a few days hanging around our pool and porch.

Geoffrey's flight plan will take him from Hong Kong to Brazil via Jo'burg. Not fun. But at least he'll have business class.

'Tis the season

Why they call it the rainy season.

The rains have arrived. We only have one roof leak (so far).

It rains hard here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A highly dubious premise

Yeah, I know, it's a cartoon for kids, but for those who have seen Happy Feet, isn't it just a bit silly?

I'm all for anthropomorphism. I mean, a monkey in a sailor suit serving drinks at a bar would be a dream come true for me.

But really, a baby penguin who is ostracized for not having a good singing voice and instead liking tap dance?

I just don't know if I can get on board.

Update: You know, it's as if someone got high, then watched Moulin Rouge and March of the Penguins back to back and thought - "Hey, if I lose the prostitution, and throw in a bit of Footloose, I think we'll have a winner of a kids' cartoon."

I think we might "lose" this DVD.

Katherine is out, by the way, so Sam has chosen tonight to scream...not cry, scream...for going on 75 minutes. I finally just put him down in the room and left to put Jack to bed and he piped down for the past 20 minutes. Winding up for a good cry again, though.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


This guy is on the INSIDE of the screen, by the way.

In other lizard-related news, Katherine called me in to the bedroom last night to tell me that a gecko was caught in the mosquito net on our bed and could I please get him out, like, right NOW! While extricating said gecko from our delightful mosi net, I reminded Katherine that we lived with geckos and other lizardy-type creatures for two years in Laos. She had forgotten, it seems.

Jack's mosi net is refreshingly lizard free...thus far.

Sam doesn't have his own mosi net yet. We basically put him on the floor next to our bed (in a baby-sized bed) and he cadges a bit of net from us. But his brother decided to be a human blanket yesterday and was able to both keep Sam warm and keep him safe from mighty lizards while they lounged in the yard.


It's a little blurry, but it is an authentic smile from our somewhat serious son, Sam (say that 3 times fast).

We went to a place called Sandy's Creations for lunch today. Actually, Katherine and the boys went there yesterday too with some friends. Today we went with Jack's classmate Keira and her parents. Jack and Keira have become good friends, and, when not drinking delicious juice, ran around toggether all afternoon.

At Sandy's Creations Sandy has created a lovely garden center with a cafe and a children's play park all rolled into one. What Sandy didn't create is a way to purchase beer while having your lunch while your kids run around, so Jason (Keira's dad) and I headed down the road to a small bar and found a $7 bottle of vodka (retail) to mix with our fruit juice.


Sandy's is about 15 KM south of town, and the town of Kafue is just 20 KM or so farther down the road. Jack's birthday is coming up (Wednesday, deadbeats) and he told us he wants a bike and a giraffe for his birthday. Turns out Kafue is known for its roadside stands selling large wood-carved giraffes. In 1998, I bought one myself, although mine stands no more than about 4 feet tall.

Well, we decided to head to Kafue after Sandy's (Katherine at the wheel, having forgone the opportunity to drink some Nikolai Vodka -- produced and bottled in South Africa, where all good vodka is made) to find us a giraffe for Jack's birthday.

We figured because he hadn't had a nap and had run himself ragged, it was likely that Jack would sleep until we got the giraffe, drove home, and hidden said giraffe away until his birthday.

He slept through the drive to Kafue, and through the 10 minute haggling session I held with the salesman. But he woke up on the drive home. It was many a KM until he finally noticed the extra passenger, as it was out of his line of sight, even if it stretched almost the length of the Prado's interior.

He hadn't noticed at this point, anyway.

Since he did notice, we figured we'd tell him the truth that the giraffe was one of his birthday presents. He was ever so thankful.

The thing is a bit large, but I guess giraffes generally are.

Jack has already named his giraffe Phil, by the way.

It stands about 7 feet tall.

And check out the t-shirt. On Jack, not the giraffe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday evening

Had a new friend and her two kids over for dinner. Jack had a great time playing with his classmate Keira and we had delicious pork tenderloin.

Jack now sleeping, and coughing, in bed. I compelled him to go to sleep with talk of adventure and swimming pools tomorrow, but only if he goes to bed and stays there.

Katherine asleep on the couch, Sam in a milk coma on her chest.

I'm watching a few episodes of Scrubs, season 4 and finishing a Castle - a good South African beer brewed in Zambia.

Going for brunch to a garden center/cafe/children's play park with friends tomorrow.

This place is starting to feel like home.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The intersection of people and wildlife

Interesting story from Zambia about the perils of living close to elephants.

Southern Africa's elephants: treasured killers.

Our friends Mike and Arlene who run Wildlife Conservation Society in Laos were working with chili peppers to try to move elephants away from populations there too.


There's a private game park about 25 KM outside of town. We've been talking with Jack about all the animals we'd see in Africa for about a year so we figured we'd better get out and see some animals before the rains come with their safari park closing full force.

Jack was excited to get going.

A particular favorite animal of Jack's is quite common at Chaminuka. When I went in August I probably saw 12.

Not lions.

The lions are separated from the non-predators and are in their own enclosure, so that seems a bit more zoo-like. But you are really just separated by some chicken-wire type wall, so it's a bit less zoo-like than a real zoo.

Not elephants.

Chaminuka has a family of three elephants, and just introduced one more female that was at another private park where they offered elephant rides until the elephant became too aggressive and hurt some guests or something and it was transferred to Chaminuka -- where rides are not offered.

Not Sable.

The Sable are one of the cooler african antelopes. They are supposedly a big hunting trophy antelope as well. Back in the day, they were considered a "royal" animal, and only people of a certain rank in society were able to hunt them during the early colonial period.

Not marabou storks.

The storks were EVERYWHERE. Hundreds of them. The Massai apparently took their traditional dance (the jumping and whatnot) from the marabou mating dance.

Note the animal on Jack's shirt. He was REALLY looking for a giraffe. Since he started talking he has maintained that giraffes are his favorite animal.

There are more than 50 giraffes in the relatively small game park. We saw none. As we were heading back, we recounted all the animals that we saw. Elephants, lions, zebras, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, monitor lizards, and numerous types of antelope.

Jack turned and said "just one more to see...giraffes."

When we told him that we weren't going to get to see one today he was heartbroken. But he recovered, and was able to give a thumbs up to the day.

Sam stayed home with Olipa so we could have a special day with Jack. I doubt a two month old would really appreciate the game drive anyway.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

New boarders

Last night we were watching a movie - a great romantic comedy called Midnight Express...Ah, Istanbul - and were interrupted by a cacaphony of croaking and whatnot.

As an aside, our pool is now drained, but has about 4 inches of water in the deep end filled with leaves and other detritus.

We investigated today and four huge toads are now resident in the deep end of our pool. We relocated two of them to over our back wall, which I later realized was probably someone else's back wall too so really we just threw them in our neighbors yard. Sharing makes good neighbors.

Anyway, we still have two toads, so we'll see how they behave tonight.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Jack and his ladies

Jack has taken to climbing a tree in the yard to get away from it all and think back fondly about all the loves he left behind in Virginia.

There's Mali, of course. His Lao connection (she being the daughter of Tom and Goht, our neighbors in Laos) and one of his earliest friends.

And bandmate and first friend ever, Eva. Of course, they do have a history together too.

Newcomer to the scene, Ella. HUGE potential, even without the long history together.

And the completely platonic love for his cousin, Stella.

And who can forget the duck from the reflecting pool. While the duck didn't really respond to Jack's advances and his interest flagged soon after this photo was taken, Jack still considers the duck a very close friend.

Jack's friend Rocko

We arrived in Lusaka on Monday, October 19 and the first few days Katherine and the boys kind of hung around the house. Jet lag, a lack of transport, etc. kept them pretty homebound. And we had our suitcases and nothing more, so there wasn't much to do.

Then, about day 3 Jack got pink eye, so he was further isolated....purposely...from other kids.

That Saturday afternoon we were hanging out in the back yard and Jack came up with a huge paving stone and said

"You see this big rock? It's my new friend."

We decided we needed to get Jack out and interacting with kids ASAP.

He has since left Rocko behind (Katherine helped him name him, I think. I'm not sure he would have come up with that on his own.

But here he is that first week with his only friend in Zambia (at the time).


We have a new (old) Landcruiser Prado to get us where we need to go. It's got a high clearance for going off road to camp and self-safari and the largest exhaust pipe I think a car can have.

We're taking name suggestions.

The front of our house is also good for riding scooters and bikes.

Jack has already gotten used to left-hand drive. Katherine less so.

Note the roof rack. We also have a 3rd row of seats, so we're set for camping and exploring the country with visitors.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The other one

He has taken to questioning our dedication to documenting his life.

The boys. Jack has been surprisingly good with Sam. He hasn't really been jealous, and more often than not he wants to include, rather than exclude, Sam in all the very fun and exciting things we do like jumping on the bed.

By the way. Jack also shared his pink eye with Sam, so he's generous too. It's clearing up nicely, though.