WARNING: This is a super long post! Lots has happened lately, and I've tried to cover it all so it got a little out of hand. Read at your own risk!
Sarah and I are officially at post and this is Sarah's third day. It's been a crazy last week! We have been suffering from isolation without any access to internet or phone since Saturday evening, but the embassy finally got us passwords to access the internet on their computers. Phew!
I'll try to get you up to speed on what's gone on in the last week, but there's so much stuff I'll probably forget half of it... On Sunday and Monday last week, we visited a Costco and Sears and bought TONS of things! Groceries, surge protectors, television, extra iron, etc. We were worn out and didn't want to buy another thing or make another decision by the time we were done. There was a whole list of things that came from the embassy that they recommended you bought before coming to post because there is a serious lack of American goods in the local stores. And if exists, it's so expensive! Everything here costs more. We thought we were ridiculous buying all of that stuff, but now that we're here we are very glad we did, even though we won't get most of it for a few months.
Tuesday we took a road trip. First, we headed up to Hagerstown, MD where they have been storing all of our stuff. Our goal was to decide which of our things we wanted to ship to Brasilia, however we found out that we could have saved the trip. We simply looked at the inventory list and marked the boxes and furniture we wanted them to forward, and we'll receive them as our HHE (HouseHold Effects; ground shipment that we receive in approx. 4 months). We could have faxed over the list from DC and saved a few hours, but who knew!
From Hagerstown, we made a couple hour drive over to Annapolis, MD to visit the USDA. The USDA had to place a seal on an international certificate of health that we received from a qualified veterinarian on Saturday for Abby. It's been pretty expensive to get her over here. The vet bill was around $200, another $40 from the USDA, and a $230 charge from the airline, all of which Abby would probably tell you is completely unnecessary. She doesn't really like traveling... After we finally arrived back home, we continued the process of seperating our things to be shipped.
Wednesday was the big pack out! They came to our apartment and took our piles of things. The HHE I've already explained, but we also had a UAB (Unaccompanied Air Baggage) which we receive in about one month. Moving with the State Dept. is a breeze compared to doing it on your own, as all you have to do is seperate you things into the appropriate piles and watch the movers box everything up and take it away. I don't know if anyone would be doing this job if they had to move their own things every two years, so it is a good perk. The only things they left were our third pile of things; our baggage that we were taking with us on the plane.
Thursday was much more laid back for me, although Sarah had to work. I ran just a few errands in the morning, and the shipping company came by and picked up our car in the afternoon. Now I have taken every precaution with our car in the last few weeks getting it serviced and inspected and buying oil, fuel, and air filters along with extra lights and windshield wipers so that we will be covered for the next couple of years for the basics. Our car should be running great, and as I mentioned we just took it on a road trip a couple of days before. On the way back from running errands, 20 minutes before the movers were scheduled to take if off of our hands, it died at a stoplight! It's never done that before! Luckily, it started right back up and didn't have an issue after that, but it is still troubling. I hope we don't have an issue here, as I've learned it's expensive to have vehicles repaired.
Friday was a fun day! This was our last day in DC, and we didn't have anything to do except relax and prepare for the travel. So we started out the day taking a subway to Foggy Bottom and walking to Georgetown. Georgetown is a beautiful old area of DC that we've really been wanting to explore deeper, but just haven't had the chance. We went to a spa and got massages, then hustled over to a "food tour" that we had already booked. They walked us around Georgetown trying foods from about 6 different places and it was wonderful! If ever you're in DC and looking for something fun to do, check out http://www.dcmetrofoodtours.com/.
When we finished there, we went home and changed, drank a bottle of wine and went out again around 10:00. That's super late for us old people! We went to a scotch bar close to the White House and tried several different types of scotch and didn't get home until after 2:00am! It was really a fun last night in the US.
Needless to say, we slept in a little bit on Saturday morning. I think we got up and going around 9:00 and packed all of our things. We had previously purchased four HUGE suitcases plus our two carry-on's and had to keep each of the big guys under 70lbs. We also had a cheap little scale that would weigh the bags (while we held them and subtracted our weight), so we had somewhat of an idea of how much weight they held. Abby was growing increasingly needy, as she could tell something was up. I think she thought we were leaving her there!
After we were all packed, we headed next door to Eden Center, which is a shopping center we've dubbed "Little Vietnam." We have eaten lots of Vietnamese food there in the last few months, so we wanted to enjoy it one last time before leaving. The food was delicious, and we walked back to the apartment by 1:00 so the taxi could pick us up. Oh yeah, the taxi... I forgot to mention how worried we were about how we were getting to the airport. We had WAY more bags than we could handle alone on the metro, and any normal sedan wasn't going to fit us, our baggage and Abby, so we made lots of calls to taxi companies. We settled on a handicap minivan, as the back ends are completely open. Even then we were nervous, but somehow it all fit! We got to the airport around 2:00 and were checked in and seated in the terminal watching football by 3:00.
Considering all the variables, our check-in process went very smooth. We had read online that the baggage limit for international flights was 70 lbs., but the employee thought it was 50. We panicked some, but she checked it out and we were right. Phew! We had to shuffle things around in our suitcases several times to get them all the right weight and by the time we were done, they were all within a couple lbs. of 70! Abby took quite a while to check in as well, but luckily because we had done our research, we had all of the necessary paperwork and it went relatively well. We felt so guilty for leaving her with our baggage, as she is such a skittish dog! Being locked in her kennel and transported across the world I'm sure has scarred her, but she was a really good dog through the whole process, and was very excited to finally see us when we arrived on Sunday morning!
We arrived in the Brasilia airport and went through customs in about an hour. The special black diplomatic passports were helpful, as they got us right to the front of the customs line! We weren't a bit guilty, despite the dirty looks. :)
The embassy appointed us a great host couple named Alan and Paula and they were there waiting for usn outside the airport. They are so nice! They brought two vehicles to fit all of our stuff, and drove us to our apartment. They had already unpacked our welcome kit and purchased a few things to help us get settled. I have to stress how nice it was to have their help on Sunday and the preparation they had gone through to make our welcome as warm as possible, because doing it on our own would have been miserable. Alan brought out a map and showed me the road system in Brasilia so we could familiarize ourselves with it right away. If we get the chance to host another family, we will certainly use them as an example.
We spent our Sunday napping and unpacking our things in our HUGE apartment. It is way more than we need, but it is very nice! I'll have to take more pictures and post them, because the GSO's pictures don't do it justice. Sunday evening we ventured out to a close restaurant called Belini's which we found out had a buffet. We quickly learned how difficult it is going to be getting around and even ordering at restaurants without knowing any Portuguese. Almost no one speaks English, and everything is just so different. It's going to be a difficult first few months until we get the hang of things.
Sarah started work bright and early Monday morning. There was a mixup with the shuttle, but luckily we had already met our neighbor above us, so she gave us a ride. I spent the day getting oriented and reading my Business Law book while Sarah dove right into her new job! There really wasn't any training time for her, as her first day was filled with serious work. We are picking up pieces of knowledge as we go along, and Sarah has adapted extraordinarily well. Her assistant Carla is a local who is seriously on the ball and a huge help. She stayed persistent with the RSO (Regional Security Office) and the IT people to help me get internet as fast as possible for homework. I have two classes ending on Oct. 15th, and I have so much to do! I'm going to be accompanying Sarah to the embassy every day and working on homework full time on the embassy computers.
The embassy is an absolutely beautiful place. I sit outside in front of the cafeteria to read with a view of blue skies, tropical trees, and tennis courts. Directly across from Sarah's office is a pool. It's really like a working resort, and we are lucky to be here!
It is worth mentioning that Tuesday morning I took the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test), which is the starting point for applying to be a Foreign Service Officer. FSO's are different from Sarah, who is a Specialist. There are different "cones" in which you can apply, and I applied in the Management cone. It is an incredibly selective process in which a small percentage are selected, however it doesn't hurt to try. I haven't prepared in any way because of the crazy things going on the last month, so I don't have any expectations. I certainly failed the test, however many smart people have to take the test multiple times before they pass. I'm really not too concerned about it, as there are much more important things on my mind.
So that is it up until this point! Sorry this ended up being so long, but a lot has happened recently! I finally have internet through the embassy so feel free to send me an email or text. I won't be able to make or accept phone calls yet, however, because the embassy computers don't have a microphone.
Thanks for reading, and I hope all is going well! Sarah and I will try to keep you updated as our lives are changing in this new place.