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I don’t really like to shop. It feels like a pretty big waste of time, not to mention a waste of money. But I know that a lot of people are the exact opposite.

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Here are some general updates.

The stay discussed in Not a typical hotel went very well. The place looked just like the pictures, there were clean linens, etc. I even learned that our host worked for my company until a month ago (not exactly a small world because it is a large company, but still a neat connection). I hope to use the site again with a bit more advance planning when traveling to expensive cities.

This week I had the pleasure of seeing a Cirque du Soleil show. This one. It was a really great show. The acrobatics and music were stunning. But I couldn’t help but compare it to the experience of watching the same show on tv*. I’ve always been biased toward watching performances on a screen. The camera angles, focus, zoom, and speakers just create such a perfect combination that I’m so spoiled. I hate it when I can’t see and hear everything that is going on, in perfect clarity. This isn’t an issue with the seats; I could practically touch some of the performers. Click on the link above and watch the video. Even with the energy of the crowd and the newness of everything, when would you prefer a performance in person?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending a restaurant pre-run, where they test all of the equipment, staff, food, experience, etc. It was really a lot of fun. The place buzzed with energy. Everyone was excited to be there, the staff were running around in every direction, and the food was, of course, delicious. In exchange for the free meal (if I remember correctly, it included everything for several courses except alcohol), we had to complete surveys about the food, staff, setting, experience, etc. What a deal!

So when my company invited me to a test of a new facility that will be opening soon I jumped at the chance to check it out (that was planned long before the trip above). Yesterday, I drove to the facility, and as soon as I stepped out of the car I was treated to a dizzying number of staff trying to help me. Did I need help with my bags? Do I know where I am going? Is there anything they can do for me? Would I like water? This was all said with extreme cheeriness (the way I assume Disney park employees are). Once I got beyond the hordes of people trying to help me, I checked out the facility. It was well worth the hype I had heard. The building and area were gorgeous, the food was delicious (oh, and there was so much that I just kept eating), the rooms were very nice (with lots of small touches to make them very comfortable), and there were interesting company features throughout the building (to make it both more functional and entertaining). I was so excited about everything that I couldn’t sleep until early this morning (although that might from the myriad of desserts I tried last night:)

Hopefully, there will be more interesting updates to my adventures in the near future. Keep your fingers crossed!

*I don’t actually have a tv, but this is easier than saying a wide-screen tv, computer monitor, or projector in each place.

It’s summer in Texas.

I had a long list of outdoor activities that I wanted to do when I returned to the U.S. Well, I’m here…and in past month, I haven’t done much beyond going inline skating twice and taking walks (just before going to sleep, which is the only point in the day that the temperature is below 97 degrees) several times a week.

This post might seem to be about how awfully hot and humid it is here.

I complain about how there is nothing to do here because it’s too hot. But the truth is that there is just not much to do here. Or at least not for someone like me, and by that I mean someone without extended family, children, school and sporting events, or a very settled life to keep them entertained.

Dallas is a great city…for people who want plenty of space near good schools to raise their children who are driven to practices and recitals. But for me, it leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve visited the 2 museums downtown. I’ve been to the arboretum and the hour away Ft. Worth Botanic gardens (neither of which I would recommend in the over 100 degree heat we’re having). Twice, I’ve been to thenature reserve” that everyone raves about, although it leaves me wondering if those people know the meaning of “Arbor” or “Hills.”

But I continue to find myself frustrated with a lack of things to do here.

I don’t care for sports, professional, college, or little league. I don’t have children, nor all that their lives entail. I don’t like shopping, despite the malls and shopping centers lining the highways for tens of miles.

So this city leaves me (and any guests visiting me) wondering what there is to do. I have found that there are some tasty restaurants (beyond Tex-Mex & steak houses), and I quite enjoy the amazing thunderstorms and lightening shows.  See, this is a problem — if you ask me about Dallas, I can only recommend the ethnic food and the thunderstorms. Actually, there’s also a great Indian grocery store, and I have been known to take my guests there for a treat:)

I hope it’s clear to you now that this post is actually a plea for more ideas.

Suggestions? Recommendations?

I expect to be leaving this city soon, but first, I want to unearth some gems.

 

Before you start, let me say:

I haven’t been to Six Flags Over Texas since a High School band trip. (This is mostly because I don’t care to stand in line in the heat and sun, but don’t forget that without some serious coupons, the standard price is $75/person. Yikes!)

Also, I have only gone to 1 or 2 movies in the theater. (I’ve never been a big tv watcher, and after tons of bootlegged copies of movies and tv shows in Afghanistan, I prefer to take a break for awhile.)

 

Note: While I was abroad for the past year, I had quite a bit of time away from the day-to-day hassles to think about and research some of the ways I wanted to improve my life. I have a long list of things that I want to do or try out. You’ll probably see posts about some of these in the future.

I read quite a bit about people who have cut down on the amount of chemicals they use in their homes. I have been wanting to try simple cleaning with vinegar, or in combination with water, baking soda, or salt, for many months. I thought I would try to incorporate it into some basic cleaning.

However, when I got to Dallas, there was a need for deep cleaning. I wasn’t sure how/if it would work, although I had read that the vinegar and baking soda combo works great on hard-to-remove oven grime. So I put some vinegar in a sprat bottle and applied it to the sink.

I should note that I started with the side that was dirtier, and even had areas with rust, and as you can see from the pic, everything came off.

Also, the right sink has the tray from the bottom of the water dispenser of the refrigerator. Water sat there so long that the tray turned green. I sprinkled a little salt on it and added vinegar, and all of the green grime lifted off the metal to be easily wiped away.

For more tips for using vinegar, try this link.

Edit: Since I wrote this, I used vinegar and water for cleaning the inside of the microwave and the bathroom mirror. Note – in the above link, it’s suggested to use an ammonia combo for glass and mirrors. Instead, I found this example and was going to add a couple drops of dish soap, but first, I tried with just the water and vinegar — I got a clean mirror and no streaks, although that may be because it probably has been 6 months since the mirror was last cleaned!

A lot has been written about expatriates (people working outside their home country, which I’ve been doing) and repatriates (people returning to their home country after working in another country, which I’m about to do) particularly around work. It’s very important to companies to do what they can to make the transition successful.

After 2 months in Spain, I’m not too concerned about transitioning to the US. Transitioning back to a full time job is another matter!

I’ll be returning to the US at the end of this week. During this month, I will spend some time in DC, Dallas, and in my home town. If you’re in one of those locals and want to meet up, drop me a line.

As I’m nearing the 1-yr mark of starting this blog, I’ve been thinking about some small adjustments. You’ll probably see some changes coming up. Feel free to let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see (or to see differently).

Also, after being out of the US (except a 2-week visit last November) for a year, I’m making plans for my return. I expect my posts to become a lot less interesting around that time so don’t be surprised if they become less frequent. However, I will keep you informed of any changes to my whereabouts and any new adventures.

No, this post isn’t about doing yoga on vacation. It’s about stretching mentally. It’s so easy to get comfortable, fall into a routine, and shrink your comfort zone. While it might appear this doesn’t apply to me (bc of my adventures), even I struggle with it. I have to remind myself that sometimes when I’m feeling awkward I should actually push myself through that feeling.

My most common stretch is trying to talk to strangers. I’m really quite introverted, but I know that like most things it becomes more natural with practice. Sometimes my efforts fall flat, and other times I make a small connection with someone. Much fewer times, a guy gets the impression that I’m easy or I end up with a free trip around the Galapagos (yes, this happened).

Last week on a beautiful, sunny day I waited for the very infrequent bus to a nearby town on the coast. After 2 hrs, a nice lady asked me if I would like a ride bc she lives there. While it might appear suspicious, one) I know people here are extremely friendly, and two) she had a snot-filled 4 year old daughter with her. I felt pretty comfortable getting in her car. When she dropped me off, I immediately saw the sign for the tourist office so I headed there. I was hoping to get the actual bus schedule for returning home. The lady at the counter gave me the schedule, but she said that since it was a holiday the bus probably wasn’t running at all. She gave me a card to call a cab when I wanted to return home.

Fast forward.

I could call a cab to go home, but considering I hadn’t seen a single cab in two weeks, I figured it would be coming from a larger town quite a ways away. Requiring time and money. There are plenty of people driving between these two towns so I decided I should just hitchhike. (That is how I got here in the first place.)

Let me tell you, standing there beside the road with your thumb up as cars drive by is a test of endurance. It isn’t that I waited long. It’s that there’s a feeling of rejection as every car goes by. After only 3 cars went by, I was rethinking my option of a cab. I couldn’t figure out where my hand should be. Should I remove my sunglasses (perhaps seeing my eyes gives the appearance of being in need or being a nice, genuine person)? Should I look at the people driving or stare into the sky? When did I get so awkward?!

And it was that sentiment that signaled to me that, sadly, I needed to stand there, waiting, putting myself through this agonizing stretch. I couldn’t copout and call a cab.

The agony in my head made time go very slow for those 15 minutes. Then, a nice couple stopped their car, and after they moved their groceries around, I got in. It was an Irish woman married to guy from Barcelona, who have 3 almost-grown kids. The woman does Tai Chi once a week, which they were returning from. We chatted about the weather and things to do in Barcelona.

I got a free ride and a nice chat with people who live here, and in the process I stretched my comfort zone just a little bit.

Note: I should mention that I did hitchhike one other time – in Germany. However, in that situation, I asked someone who was stopped at a gas station for a lift. It was only a hair above asking the person in the elevator to press the button for my floor.

It took 3 planes, 2 subways, 1 train, 2 trams, and a lot of walking to get to my current destination.

I looked into quite a few different options, but with only 4 days to buy tix out of Kabul, I had to go with my back-up plan. Don’t feel bad; it’s a highly ranked back-up plan.

It just so happens that my buddy owns a condo in Spain, where he and his family vacation. He was kind enough to offer it to me as soon as he heard about my situation. So I am located in a rather quaint Spanish town about 10 kilometers from the beach. I’m decompressing entirely – reading, journaling and doing other writing, watching tv, researching, walking around town, getting to know some of the friendly shopkeepers, trying to figure out what I used to do in the kitchen, taking walks in the countryside, doing a little work and training for my company, and just spending time thinking and planning. I’ll hang out here for 3 weeks and then travel around a bit of Spain for 2 more weeks. This is my first visit to Spain so I’d love to hear suggestions for where to go.

 

Amusing fact – I tried to get some friends to go to Spain with me last Spring when I saw some particularly cheap plane tix (this was well before Afghanistan was on my radar). That never came together, but here I am only a year later how a much longer visit.

 

I don’t want my negativity (over my job, project mismanagement, or lack of a coherent US strategy) to imply that I was unhappy living in Afghanistan or that I think poorly of the Afghans.

On the whole, my time in Afghanistan was very easy. My post Spoiled never stopped being true. Living outside the US was one of my goals, and I’m really proud to have accomplished it, especially through my job. And while I often felt like I was in a bubble, isolated from the average people of Afghanistan, I had the advantage of living and working with people from around the world (including Irish, British, South African, Australian, Afghan, Indian, Pakistani, Pilipino, Sri Lankan, Iranian, French, and German). This increased the cultural exchanges exponentially.

I really came to enjoy the Afghan people on a social level. This is by far their strength. I understand a lot about their work norms, but I can’t say that working with them ever became easy. There is just too great a divide between the expectations I came with, at least for white collar work. (Here I’m strictly talking about Afghans who have never lived outside Afghanistan.) By far, my biggest complaint about Afghans (which is completely justified considering their history) is their tendency to just wait things out (process, system, government, etc. will fall eventually) rather than thinking strategically about what they want to become and how they can get there with existing resources. Way too much time is spent trying to figure out how to get flat screen tvs or video conferencing equipment, which aren’t needed or used for work purposes, rather than how to make their departments actually effective. Of course, I know this happens everywhere, but it is much more blatant here.

And since this is my farewell post, I have to include a few of the things that I will truly miss:

  • I really came to appreciate living in a guesthouse with other expats. It was like being put into a place where everyone is instantly part of the same club (knowing the same people, speaking the same lingo, struggling with many of the same issues, etc.). Usually when you move to a new place, you have to slowly meet people, try to get to know them better, become friends, but all of this can happen in the course of 2 or 3 days when you’re living and working together.
  • Within a few months, I had created a good situation with friends, exercising, classes, work, and get-togethers that fell into an easy routine. This will take a lot more time to create in a new place, but on the up side, I will get to incorporate outdoor activities!
  • Travel facilitates cultural exchange. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot by getting to know people on your street. But it’s much more in-your-face and people are way more open to talking about differences and similarities when you’re a visitor. You’re allowed to asked questions without offending anyone (for the most part). I’m going to miss the guys in my office, who were always so open to explaining things that I noticed, asking me questions, and comparing and contrasting situations.
  • Lunches. Have you ever wanted to entertain friends at home without the headache of planning, cooking, and cleaning up? Do you need a break in the middle of the day to just unwind, maybe vent about your job or maybe talk about what you would do if you ruled the world? Do you wish you ate delicious food made from scratch more often? If I had to pick the top thing that I will miss from these past 10 months, it is going home for a delicious lunch (5 minutes away from work) and chatting with my best buddies or hosting friends, and no planning involved.
  • In my last week, I said a lot of goodbyes, but it was actually saying goodbye to Housain, our cook, that left a lump in my throat. Of anyone in Afghanistan, he was the one who worried and fretted over me. He always knew if I was sick. He always made my favorite foods. I wouldn’t say it was a deep friendship; our limited language skills wouldn’t allow for that. But when he had a headache, he would come to me for an ibuprofen, and when he got hit by a car on his way to work (did I mention he rides his bike 1 hr each way to come to work), I was the one to send him home to rest. I am going to miss him, and I worry that others will not appreciate him. And what really bothers me is that due to the large cuts in our project, my company will need to close some of the houses that it has been renting/managing. In the process, I think it’s extremely likely that he will lose his job in the next few weeks.
  • As you know from Changing Roles, I was really looking forward to working in a different role, one that would create tangible results that my colleagues could use to improve a very important government process. I’m going to miss the opportunity to complete that work as well as working closely with some of my friends.
  • I got to know 2 Afghan women in my counterpart’s staff. I enjoyed getting to know them and learning about their families. However, our relationships didn’t really move much beyond this because I worked more closely with several of the men on the team. And then just 2 weeks before I left, I had the chance to meet and work with another Afghan woman. She is 23 yrs old and had fairly recently returned from the US, where she studied for almost 3 years. Our friendship blossomed immediately. She is from a conservative family who never wanted her to go to the US in the first place, and now she is having a very difficult time adjusting to living with her family again after so much independence. Further, even many of her friends feel she has turned her back on her culture. She no longer fits in where she once did, and I’m really going to miss the opportunity to be her friend and mentor.

Another example of learning more about my own culture:

Showing respect

On my first day in Kabul, I attended a large meeting with government officials, and as certain people came into the room everyone stood up. I didn’t think too much more about it. Then when I was working in my office and someone would enter the room all of the Afghans (usually 8 guys) working in the office would stand and greet the person who entered. When I was sitting in small group meetings with my counterpart or his staff and his boss entered the room, it was the same thing. Everyone stands, and everyone takes a turn to greet the boss. Seriously, this impacts getting work done, staying on task, etc. in an office setting. (I should probably add that for my first week my counterpart’s staff would stand when I entered the room, but I put an end to that pretty quickly.)

I asked the 2 Afghan women that I work with why it is necessary to stop what we are doing to stand and greet the boss, especially because the boss was not coming to see us (he was there to speak to someone else in the room). They said it is to show respect. I told them that in the US there are few people who we would stand up for simply because they enter the room (The President being the only example I could come up with off the top of my head). One of the girls asked me, “What do you do when your father enters the room?” Hmm, my dad, well, I pictured sitting on the couch watching tv and my dad entering the room (back when I was lived at home because these girls live with their parents), and I said “If my father enters the room, I would glance up and say hey.” They were pretty astonished by the lack of respect that I show him. However, what they see as a lack of respect is actually much more a lack of formality in the U.S. This is something I’ve definitely touched on in other posts.

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