Monday, April 30, 2012

Another Animal in the House.

So, today I was just sitting at my computer when I heard a strange noise behind me. I stopped. I heard it again. I turned around and saw something completely unexpected. This is one animal I was not prepared to have crawling around on my floor:

I'm not one to post tons of pictures of my kids and be all like, "OMG, just look at how cuuuute they are, y'all!" This, however, made me laugh out loud. It was totally out of the blue and Amelia Earhart played it completely in character. Luckily, she knows her mommy and waited very patiently to have her picture taken. Good tiger. I think we'll keep her.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bangladesh passport stamp? Check.

We just got back from a five day trip to Dhaka. For those of you who aren’t fluent in geography or political history, Dhaka is the capitol of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is almost completely surrounded by India, other than touching a tiny piece of Myanmar (Burma), and, until 1971, was part of Pakistan. It’s a third world country.

There were several high points of our trip. The first was the airport in Delhi, India. The restrooms were clean. In a third world country developing nation, most restrooms are on the shady side of filling station clean, so this was a very pleasant change. There was also a myriad of fast food and other things to eat and buy. We got McDonald's! The International Man of Intrigue had a Chicken Maharaja Mac and I had a spicy veggie burger that was delicious. The Little Explorers were content with chicken nuggets, fries, and a Sprite to share. All that, and still time to catch our flight to Dhaka.

Oh, there was one more bright spot. All the way home from the Colombo airport, I was terrified of unlocking the door and finding who-knows-what going on in our house. I pictured the squirrels building a lakeside resort in the flooded dining room. Nope! The house was dry and squirrel free. I guess they’re good at cleaning up their post-party messes, at least.

The rest of the trip? With the exception of lots of time with our friends, the Madlingers, and bringing back a cooler full of cheddar and jack cheese from the American Embassy’s commissary in Dhaka, it was no fun. Really, it was all that we expected it to be. It definitely lived up to its hype as a third world country. I’m going to need a few days to find the funny in it all, besides the part where Dhaka rhymes with caca. As you know, Fellow Adventurers, a poop joke is always funny.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Squirrel Update

Happy Earth Day. We celebrated yesterday and today by helping to release squirrels into the wild.

That’s right, apparently sealing up the attic only resulted in the squirrels coming into the main part of the house. The first was yesterday during lunch. I walked around the corner to get Arthur Dent some water and saw a squirrel in the kitchen. I squealed, it squealed. I ran, it ran. Unfortunately for it, and us, it ran through the family dining room where we were eating and there was more squealing. The little guy ran into the sitting room and disappeared. We opened the front door and tried to find it to chase it out, but it was nowhere to be found. A half hour or so later, The International Man of Intrigue found it cowering in a window gate and helped it out the front door, like a proper visitor.

Tonight during dinner, we heard a high pitched whistling sound coming from the formal dining room. It was at this point my mind flashed to the gopher in Caddy Shack. Were the squirrels out to get us? Upon further investigation, we discovered a squirrel running around the skylight area and back and forth across the rafters. We tried to encourage it to leave, but the high whistling sound continued. It was obvious the little guy was in distress for some reason. We assumed it couldn’t figure out how to leave, until The International Man of Intrigue went to the other side of the dining room for a better look and discovered another squirrel hovered in the doorway. It had either fallen or climbed down and couldn’t get back up. The International Man of Intrigue walked softly closer, speaking in a calm voice, assuring the little squirrel he was only going to open the door so it could go back outside. Too bad she wasn’t buying it. She darted across the dining room as he opened the door. Luckily, she seemed young and confused and didn’t hide, so she was quickly herded back outside.

It’s at this point I have to wonder where this whole squirrel hotel business is heading. Do they expect continental breakfast? It’s possible they only come in because Arthur Dent’s angry scream sounds exactly like a squirrel distress call. If that’s the case, I need him to figure out how to screech, “I’m fine, please go back outside.” If they’re here because they’re staying, I’d like them to pay some rent, or at least move back into the attic.

Interestingly enough, as I was researching these little guys, it turns out that some Sri Lankans keep them as pets. I think I’ll pass on that one, if I’m given a choice in the matter. Happy Earth Day to you, Fellow Adventurers. Go forth and make friends with a squirrel today.

By the way, "squirrel" is one of those words, that, after you type it a dozen or so times, suddenly looks really weird and wrong, like when you're a kid and you say a word over and over until it sounds like nonsense. I'd almost convinced myself I'd misspelled it, but it's just a weird looking word.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Our House is a Zoo

I don’t think it’s come up in conversation with you, but I am not what you'd call an “outdoorsy type.” I would rather hike through the pages of a good book than along a trail. I grew up in the country, practically the middle of nowhere, so you’d think I’d have an appreciation for the great outdoors. Nope. When my mom would force me outside, I would often take a book and sit and read on the front step, when I wasn’t convincing my little brother that it would be epic if he’d take his Big Wheel and do a Dukes of Hazard style jump off of our 6 foot tall front porch railing. Since that story has lasted well over 25 years, I’d say it was epic, indeed!

All of this hasn’t changed much as I’ve gotten older. I do have an appreciation for nature, but hiking and bird watching aren’t my thing. That being said, we have gotten to live in some amazing places when it comes to nature. Our last home was in Monterey Bay, California. We saw whales, otters, sea stars, and more in the wild. Sri Lanka is really determined to one up that. We have seen monkeys and monitor lizards in the wild. My kids have held newly hatched sea turtles. Gertrude Bell even got to take one fresh from the sand to the tank. The International Man of Intrigue and I saw a giant saltwater crocodile swimming down a river once when we were driving. It still makes my stomach turn, as I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t this guy, although I do think the one we saw was bigger.

So now we’ve established that Sri Lanka is an amazingly biodiverse ecosystem. The really interesting part is that our house is as well. Just before I sat down to type this, I was rocking Arthur Dent to sleep before his nap and I could see a parrot out in the tree. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the really interesting biodiverse ecosystem lives inside of our house. There are all kinds of bugs, including mosquitos, ants, and, most disgustingly, roaches. Once, I ran downstairs to let our gardener in to sweep the balcony. When I ran back up the stairs to our family room about forty seconds later, Arthur Dent had a tropical roach clutched in his little hand. I screamed and grabbed him, but I couldn’t bring myself to pry his fingers open and touch the roach. I shook his arm at the elbow and shrieked . The gardener looked at me like he wasn’t sure whether to offer assistance or go sweep. He finally raised one eyebrow and headed out to the patio. I’m sure he was thinking, “There’s a whole lot of crazy in this house.” Eventually, after a grueling 10 seconds or so, Arthur Dent dropped the roach and I took him to the bathroom to scrub his little hand until it was pink and germ free.

We also have little geckos that live all over the house. Arthur Dent delights in them and points and babbles every time he spots one. The rest of us enjoy them as well. I say, as long as they promise to enjoy the all-you-can-eat mosquito buffet our house offers, they are more than welcome to stay.

As I type this, the landlady’s henchmen are on the roof and the wraparound balcony trying to seal up the holes that are allowing tropical squirrels (which look a little like chipmunks) to nest in our attic and family room. Yes, adorable little tropical squirrels have taken up residence in our house. One day one was running industriously back and forth from a little hole high up the wall in our family room, along the rafters, through our bedroom and into our bathroom and presumably up to the attic. Gertrude Bell exclaimed, “Get me a ladder and I will climb up and catch it!” I sighed and hoped the thing wasn’t about to have babies in the wall. Last night after The International Man of Intrigue and I went to bed, we could hear the squirrel chirping in the attic. My big fear today is that the landlady’s henchmen have sealed up the openings to the outside without driving out our little friend. The last thing I need is a dead squirrel in the attic. I much prefer my attic squirrels alive, thank you.

The final animal I want to tell you about doesn’t live in the house. She’s my favorite, though. She’s some sort of tropical bird whose loud call is pretty distinctive. She must be semi-nocturnal, as I sometimes hear her during the night when I’m awake with Arthur Dent, and she used to wake me up every morning at the crack of dawn, rooster style. Since she has such a distinctive call, and try as I might, I’ve never seen her, I named her Kevin. The International Man of Intrigue finds my naming of Kevin alternately amusing and crazy. (Luckily, he also finds my particular brand of amusing and crazy to be irresistible.) I’m thinking of trying to catch a glimpse of Kevin by baiting her with chocolate. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Monsoon Dinner Theater

Who wants to go to a boring snooze fest of a dinner party and sit around and stare at the other guests, trying to make polite conversation without yawning over dessert? Not the Intrigue Family! We decided to gather up a couple of families with kids and have a casual, kid friendly afternoon and evening at our place. In that regard, we invited a couple of friends over. For the sake of anonymity, how about we call the first family George and Martha Washington, due to their Virginia/D.C. connections? (Yes, I know that D.C. wasn’t the capitol when Washington was POTUS, but it is named after him, so work with me.) The second family, we’ll call The Livingstones since they lived in Africa for a while. We also hosted a friend on leave from attending a school in Pakistan who we’ll call Ed, because…that’s not his name. With a combined half dozen kids, that rounded out the evening’s attendance.

I planned on keeping things simple, which is unusual for me. Stateside, I look at having people over for dinner as having a captive audience to try a new recipe and make a bunch of appetizers. Over here, I seem to have lost my cooking mojo, so I made pasta salad and decided to marinate and grill some chicken breasts. Since we didn’t bring our grill with us, I bought a one time use grill at Arpico Supercenter. That’s also where I did battle at the meat counter for the last of the boneless chicken breasts. Shopping over here is a lot of work, Fellow Adventurers.

Anyway, after we sat around enjoying each others’ company and some frosty adult beverages for a bit, it was time to fire up the grill. That was the first folly in our little dinner party. Once out of the package, it was apparent the thing was thinner than a single use aluminum pan. Hmm. It also included charcoal and “special igniting paper” and looked like it might hold two chicken breasts at a time. We all got a good laugh out of it as I sent The International Man of Intrigue outside to try to light it while I dodged scootering, biking, running and crawling children to get to the kitchen to fire up the oven as a Plan B. It’s a good thing there was a Plan B because the “special igniting paper” on the grill didn’t even light, let alone the charcoal. Into the oven went the chicken.

Thirty minutes later, the chicken was done and it was time to convince the house full of Little Explorers to stop moving for five seconds and at least eat a bite before running off to play again. About that time, it started raining. Good thing we went with Plan B—I don’t want to grill outside in a monsoon! Just as the grown ups started filling their plates, it happened. It started with Mrs. Livingstone and I putting chicken on our plates and saying, “Did you feel that mist coming down from the ceiling?” The next thing we knew, Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Washington had sprung into action, grabbing the “Waterfall Preparedness Kit” aka, buckets, (leftover from this crisis the other night)stacked in the corner and shoving them under the stream of water coming in from the skylight. All the gentlemen got the table and chairs out of the way and got buckets set up while we moved the Little Adventurers upstairs for movies and the grown ups into the family dining room to eat.

This was when the biggest tragedy of the evening struck: The chicken was bone dry. It tasted like sawdust with Italian seasoning on it. Ugh. Never mind that the steady stream from the roof had turned into a deluge, forcing Mr. Washington, Mr. Livingstone, The International Man of Intrigue, and Ed to empty 10 gallon buckets and 16 gallon tubs, lest they overflow and add to the lake forming on the tile floor of the formal dining room. The chicken was dry, people. Dry.

Despite that obstacle, dinner went on and soon enough it was time for dessert. The waterfall in the dining room had even turned back into a small stream. Perfect. Rich people pay big bucks for water features in their houses and we have one that everyone can enjoy over dessert. Then, just as I was brewing coffee and passing out water for tea, the power went out. Total darkness engulfed the house. Luckily, before we could even find flashlights to go out and fire up the generator, it was back on.

Once the power was on and dinner was finished, the Little Explorers all figured out that splashing in the dining room was oh, so much fun. The little Washington boy was even jealous that he didn’t have a waterfall and puddles in his dining room.

After everyone packed up and headed home to deal with their own ceiling drips, I put our Little Explorers to bed while The International Man of Intrigue finished bailing the water on the floor. While we did the dishes, we remarked that, even though it wasn’t your typical dinner party, it sure was funny.

(In all seriousness, as I post this, tornadoes are ripping through my home state of Kansas. I hope all my family and friends are safe and sound and not hosting a dinner party.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What? You Don't Have A Waterfall In Your Dining Room?

Well, on Monday I was going to write a nice blog post about Easter Sunday here, but instead I ended up updating my Facebook status with this little gem:

“All cycling and scootering in the formal dining room has been immediately suspended due to the current water level. Wake boarding or swimming will replace normal activities until further notice.”

Yes, our house here is big. Bigger than we’ll ever have stateside. The formal dining room holds a table that seats 10, a china hutch and a sideboard and still seems empty. At one point The International Man of Intrigue and I only half jokingly debated taping off a half court basketball court and holding three on three tournaments. Friends have suggested trampolines or a trapeze. The International Man of Intrigue and a friend insisted that with its second story balcony, it was impossible to eat at the table and not imagine an old west style shootout, complete with bad guys being shot and falling over the banister. Instead of turning it into a gymnasium or movie set, we opened it up for the Little Explorers (and just maybe their parents as well) to scooter or bicycle around. Until Monday night, that is.

The reason the formal dining room is so big is that it used to be an open courtyard. It was closed in and a plexiglass skylight was added before we moved in. That skylight has been the least of our worries. We have had the landlady’s “henchmen”, as I like to call them, over here about every other week working on our roof. We had powder post beetles (or more likely, termites) and they kept replacing parts of the ceiling and roof. The whole setup over our heads is sketchy at best. There are a lot of places in the house, especially in the kitchen, where you can see right outside. I guess all those decorators who want to bring nature indoors should come and check out this idea. Our ceilings are all exposed wood beams and really gorgeous, except for the powder post beetles or termites or whatever finds them tasty this week. On the other side of the ceiling, ostensibly protecting us from the elements, is tin sheeting and a bunch of broken terra cotta shingles. That’s all. Really. It looks like this:

Sketchy, huh?

Amazingly, we haven’t had too many problems, except for Monday night. Monsoon season is starting here, and while we’ve had some heavy rains off and on in the past, we’ve had rain every night for almost a week. In the past, we’ve had some leaks, but nothing that couldn’t be mopped up and moved on with. Monday, we got this:

Mind you, that bright red bucket holds about 10 gallons and filled over the halfway mark in a few minutes! I was pulling buckets and storage bins from wherever I could think of and The International Man of Intrigue was bailing, still in his work clothes! We called Facilities emergency number and someone headed out right away. We knew there wouldn’t be much he could do after hours while it was still monsooning outside. Unfortunately when he showed up it was just a guy in a tuk tuk. Not exactly helpful. He assessed the situation and told us he’d get in touch with the landlady so her henchmen could come and fix it. Then he asked if we had any more buckets or a squeegee or anything. Ummm…noooo…that’s why we called you!

Long story short, the henchmen were up on the roof the next day doing a temporary fix that should get us through the extra long weekend—it’s Sri Lanka’s New Year. Now if only they would evict the tropical squirrel/chipmunk that has taken up residence in our family room ceiling. But that, Fellow Adventurers, may be a tale (or tail) for another day.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

You Say "Tip", I Say "Bribe"

So, I realized in reading back through it that my last post (here) sounded kind of grouchy. Totally unintentional. Sorry about that. I actually really enjoyed going to the movies and thought the experience was as interesting as the movie itself.

The International Man of Intrigue and I often chuckle about what I like to call "The Synonym Game". Sri Lanka was a former British colony and English as a language got deported but never went home with The Crown, so many people speak it as a second, but very familiar language. The funny part comes in when these people, who most days are very fluent, look at you like you have nine heads if you use a word they aren't familiar with. Last week we were asking our driver about getting a ticket for traffic violations. It took him a few minutes to figure out we were talking about what he calls a "chit". If someone asks your phone number and it is, for example, 700-549-332, you have to say "seven, double zero, five four nine, double three, two." If you say "seven zero zero, five four nine, three three two", I swear to you, your phone number will not be understood. (I also swear to you that I made that number up, and if you try to call it, I don't know what will happen or who you'll talk to.)

All that is to bring me to the point of my post, the garbage service. Don't say trash, or refuse, or rubbish, or poopy diapers (poop again!) and empty Diet Coke cans and dirty tissues, or no one will understand you. The garbage in Colombo is partially privatized, but the government took it over after the end of the thirty year civil war to give soldiers something to do, and to see to it that it actually got done instead of not done, which was apparently the case. (I'm not sure how close to the truth this last sentence is, but I'm sure that if you asked seven people who would know, you'd get seven different, but similar answers. That's Sri Lanka, Fellow Adventurers.) ANYWAY, here's the crazy part about our garbage men. (And they are all men. I have seen women sweeping streets with a garbage cart, but all the people who come to actually pick our trash up from the curb are men.) They come several times a week. One of them runs ahead and rings all the bells, because no one leaves their trash ahem, garbage, on the curb. I have no idea why. After he rings the bell, someone, usually our driver, Kumar, if it's during the week, takes all the garbage to the curb and brings back the bin. If the garbage collectors help, they literally dump the contents of the bin onto the sidewalk and then pick the trash up off the sidewalk and put it on the truck.

All of this only happens because we "tip" the garbage men each month. We moved into our house in mid-February, so we didn't tip them right away, but we did give them more than the typical monthly tip to haul off our boxes. At the beginning of March, they showed up, asking for a tip more than three times the going rate from The International Man of Intrigue. When he gave them the amount that is the going rate, the foreman rubbed his belly and said, "But we're hungry." Since the dude looked like he might actually be eating for two, it was hard to be sympathetic. The International Man of Intrigue was even less likely to be sympathetic when the head garbage dude asked if we were Russian. My husband is a child of the 80's and loves the movie "Red Dawn," so you could say he didn't exactly take this as a compliment.

The kicker of all this is, after we paid them, the garbage collectors refused to come back and didn't pick up our trash for over a week. The International Man of Intrigue was ready to climb our wall and scream "WOLVERINES!" every time they passed us by. This is one of the reasons we have employees like our driver, who is five feet five inches of awesomeness. He went to straighten things out with the garbage men and when they tried to tell him that we hadn't "tipped" them this month, Kumar called BS. The guys have never missed our house again and are extra polite and carry all the trash out for me if Kumar isn't around. Of course, the first thing out of their mouths on April 1st was "Money, Madame?" which proves what I have been saying all along. If I have to pay it or you don't do your job, it's either a salary or a bribe. Since I don't get a bill and I'm just supposed to know how much to give them, and they are supposed to technically pick it up whether I pay them or not, I'm going with the latter. Anyway, it sounds so much more glamourous and fancy to tell The International Man of Intrigue over dinner that I remembered to bribe the garbage men this month.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Let's Go To The Movies!

On Wednesday, I ran around the house singing this little song from the movie musical Annie, not just because my kids have watched the movie about a thousand times and someone in this house sings a line from it at least every day. I had a special reason. Guess what I did Wednesday afternoon? I went to see The Hunger Games at a theater here in Colombo. I read the books last summer, over Fourth of July Weekend when The International Man of Intrigue and Gertrude Bell had what was probably the worst stomach bug of their lives. It just happened to hit while we were in a hotel in Las Vegas, where we’d met The International Man of Intrigue’s family for a mini-reunion. It also just happened to hit right after he and I and his sister and brother in law had gone to see the movie Bridesmaids and laughed until we cried over the scene where everyone gets violently ill. I told you guys, we don’t do normal or boring in this family. Anyway, that is all a story for another time (or maybe for never. It’s pretty gross and involves the word “poop”, again, of course.). The bottom line is, I spent an entire day in the hotel room and between taking care of the sickies and also nursing Arthur Dent, who was still a mere infant and nursed all the time, I read the Hunger Games Trilogy.

Like most people who read The Hunger Games books, I was anxious to see the movie, so I was thrilled to go with some ladies from my book club and their teens and tweens. I was not, however, sure I would be thrilled to see a movie in Sri Lanka. I’ve only been here three months, but that is long enough to make an educated guess that something like going to a movie is going to be a cultural experience in and of itself. It was. Let’s discuss the differences, shall we?

We saw it on “opening week” here, which was a week later than the rest of you saw it.

It cost a mere 340 rupees to get in. At the current exchange rate, that’s about $2.65. Did I mention that the $2.65 also included a Coke and two popcorns?

Let’s talk about that free food for a minute: The Coke here comes in glass bottles that have to be opened with a bottle opener. You get a long straw to drink it out of, which makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time about 70 years. Adding to the effect is that it’s the Coke made with sugar instead of the corn syrup stuff. I'm a die hard Diet Coke drinker, and I can not stomach a regular Coke in the States, but, I guess because of the sugar, I will drink it on occasion here. The popcorn was surprisingly good, despite the fact that it was not popped on site, but came in little chip size bags. Of course, it could just be good because after you’ve lived in a strange place long enough, anything familiar tastes good.

Now, if you can get past the fact that I paid $2.65 for a first run movie, Coke, and two bags of popcorn, we can move on. Actually, we can move on anyway, because I still can’t get over it. I’m glad that’s all I paid, though, for a couple of reasons.

The previews/commercials here are insanely loud. It might be tolerable if the sound quality was good, but it’s horrible and so is the picture, often.

Next up, the theater is kind of, hmmm…gross. I was convinced at one point I was going to get lice. I swear, I’m not a complete germaphobe, although I did completely freak out earlier this week when Arthur Dent had a giant cockroach clutched in his chubby little hand. Aaah, the joys of tropical island life. Anyway, I’m telling you, the seats in this theater gave me a bit of the creepy crawlies, and I know I’m not the only one since one of the other moms confided she made her kids take showers right after they got home.

Can we talk about the noise level from the audience? Luckily, the theater was mostly empty, besides us, because I can’t imagine how it would have been had it been a packed house. Unfortunately, just like in the US, some couple brought their 5ish year old, who was obviously too young to see the movie and wasn’t very well behaved. There were also plenty of poorly behaved adults messing with and talking on cell phones, but instead of it being an isolated incident, it seemed like everyone was doing it.

There is intermission in every movie here. Sounds like a great time for a bathroom break (if you can stomach a public bathroom here), but it’s just a disappointing moment when some character gets cut off mid sentence and you are jarred out of your voluntary suspension of disbelief for another set of annoying commercials.

Now for the absolute worst part of the whole experience, possibly worse than the thought of getting lice (which I didn’t by the way): The projectionist was watching a movie. I know, you are thinking, “Of course he was watching The Hunger Games, he was running the projector.” Well, that’s where you’d need to get out your mat, because you'd be jumping to conclusions. He wasn’t watching The Hunger Games. I don’t know what he was watching, but it wasn't in English and it was turned up full volume on his portable T.V. For real, the guy was watching a movie at full volume on a portable television in the projection room. As if it wasn’t bad enough, during the most dramatic scene in the entire movie, the one that I’ve heard from other friends brought them to tears, the movie’s sound was almost completely drowned out by the soundtrack of this winner’s movie. Of course, this is Sri Lanka, so it’s just one of those little parts of life you roll your eyes at and try your best to tune out.

I am very glad I got to see The Hunger Games, though. It lived up to my expectations even after reading the books and I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of the movies as they come out, wherever we’re living then.

The bottom line is that, while I wouldn’t exactly dance around in my slip like Grace from Annie, I would go see another movie if I really couldn’t stand the wait for it to come out on DVD!

Oh, and since I’m talking about a movie with a mythical bird, the Mockingjay, I have to give a shoutout to my favorite mythical bird, the Jayhawk! I’ll be getting up early Tuesday morning to watch the Kansas Jayhawks play for the NCAA Basketball Championship!