October 13, 2018

Update on the (Not So) New School Year

It's the eve of October break and we find ourselves reflecting on the start of our ninth year overseas, a quarter of the way through the second year at our third international school. It can be said with certainly that no matter how smooth or bumpy transitions have been to each new place, the second year is always easier than the first. This year, we arrived back in Luanda on August 1st, and reported to work the very next day. And that day feels like both minutes and forever ago.

Liam's first order of business  when we got back and unpacked was building the Death Star.....

.....alongside Jonah putting together stools we brought back from IKEA. Lego for adults!

Returning to familiar surroundings and not needing to figure everything out anew, means that we have had more time and energy to explore a bit further afield. Among the adventures have been a fancy Sunday lunch at a country lodge, a night of camping in the forest for Jonah and two colleagues during which they came across a bull elephant, attending Rosh Hashanah dinner with the Israeli Ambassador leading the prayers, a boat ride to see humpback whales, stocking up on soy sauce and noodles at a Chinese market on the outskirts of the city, and a mechanically challenged deep sea fishing outing for Jonah (and, yes, that Marlin was HUGE!).

Another highlight was getting far out of town on a three-day weekend in mid-September. Our destination was Catanas Point:

Unfortunately, that driving time on the map does not account for the conditions of the roads which were, not good. Our traveling crew - 26 people in total - included these five kids, grades 6, 7, 8, 8, and 9, who talked and snacked incessantly. If you have an opinion on Harry Potter vs. Star Wars, these are your people:

We stopped for a short walk and lunch at some nice waterfalls along the way:

Nine and a half hours after our 6:00am departure, finally on approach to the camping spot:

Beachfront tent sites:

Happily out of the car, setting up tents, and running into the ocean:

So how did we end up at this particular place? A colleague who surfs every weekend met a fellow surfer, Sergio - a Brazilian dentist who has lived in Luanda for several years and runs a clinic in Luanda - out on the waves. Sergio developed this camp as a surfing destination and negotiated his lease on the land by providing dental care to the villages on either side of the property and he is now in the process of building a school for the local kids who do not have access to education. 

The facilities at camp included cold showers and a couple of toilets and in true southern Africa style, the braai was in stacked to full capacity around dinnertime. The first night, our host grilled lobsters for all who wanted them and unlike most lobster bakes, multiple servings were available to those who wanted seconds, or thirds:

The next day, most of our group did a three-hour hike along a riverbed to an old dam, up and across the ridge, and back down to camp through the neighboring village. We had to hurry ourselves along to get back to camp before total darkness:

Lots and lots of fossils:

Starting our descent:

Village life at sunset:

That night, the boys asked to sleep under the stars and they were the last to wake up in the morning:

As we have realized over the years, group travel is really great fun and this was a fantastic trip with fantastic people. This year, we look forward to many more adventures around this part of the world. For starters, we have just put the finishing touches on winter break plans - just nine short weeks away. The bigger news is that both boys will go on their first international school trip this year; Liam is headed to Nairobi with the swim team in November where he will have his own cheering section of friends from our Delhi days. In the second semester, Asa and the entire 8th grade will be off to South Africa for a week of safari and cultural exchange. A big step for both kids - and their parents!

But before we get to all of that, it's time to get this break started. Having just gotten our visas renewed (and passports back) about ten days ago, the opportunity to travel outside of Angola was a happy surprise. When asked what they wanted to do with this week, Liam's reply was "go to a mall" and Asa said "stay on a farm". With the details coming together quickly - and both kid requests fitting into the itinerary - our bags are now packed and we head to the airport first thing in the morning. 

Thanks for reading along and please follow on Instagram for updates from the road. 

Note: Camping photo credits go to Jonah and fellow travelers.

June 10, 2018

Luanda Lapse


1. a brief or temporary failure of concentration, memory, or judgement.

2. an interval or passage of time.

When we went to our previous school director, to let him know that we were making progress on our job search and it was looking likely that this gig in Angola would come through, he dismissively waved his hand across his desk and without making eye contact responded with: "Africa, huh? You've got a pretty good chance of getting boiled and eaten if you move there."

Boiled. And. Eaten.

This awkward interchange propelled us further from the place we were and made us feel more confident that Luanda, Angola was the place to be. Fast forward twenty months, and our first school year here has come to a close, three bags are packed and waiting by the door; we are ready for the journey to summer in New England.

Looking back, this lapse in time was most certainly not a lapse in judgement, as our former boss wanted us to believe. It has been a terrific year, exceeding all expectations. Both our school community and host country have been welcoming and inclusive; challenging at times yet supportive; fun and spirited yet always with opportunity for escape to calm and solitude when needed. A reminder that a place we had not heard of and had to search for on a map has become familiar, comfortable, enjoyable, and yet another place to call home.

Recently, I took some time lapse video while en route to the US Embassy to pick up my new passport. Luanda has some beautiful areas and others that are more reflective of the poverty that exists throughout Angola. These stretches of road are in the more upscale neighborhoods:

And as it is with international schools, the end of the year brings many - so many - goodbyes to friends and colleagues who are moving on to new places. In the midst of these farewells, we are grateful that it's not our turn to leave. After back to back transitions the past few years, we are staying put this time around, and happily so.

And before signing off for summer, it must be said that this has been a tremendous year of growth for both boys - new school, new country, new friends, new curriculum, new language.  In the last week of school, Liam presented his eight weeks of research on Humor at the Primary Years Programme (PYP) Exhibition, the culminating fifth grade project before leaving elementary school.

An overview of all the Exhibition topics:

Liam recorded his stand-up routine for visitors to view and provide feedback:

And at the middle school final assembly, Asa received two certificates, one for honor roll and the other, an improvement award for math. This kid has really come into his own as a student over the course of this year and while awards are definiately not the most important thing, it was really nice to see his efforts recognized and the pride he felt for meeting his academic goals. 

Upon reflecting on the challenges and overall experience  this year, I now am able see that we terrifically underestimated how massive this transition would be for Asa and Liam; that in their tweens, it would be navigated on a completely different level than our previous moves. The moment that I grasped what we had asked of our kids - and how well they had managed - was when I stopped by Asa's English classroom on the last day to say "thank you", and was caught off-guard by the lump in my throat. For all the unknowns these kids took on back in August and their resilience and positive spirit and commitment to figuring things out - well, there is no award for that.

The reward (for all of us), is seven weeks in the USA. It is always so, so, so exciting to get on that plane bound for Boston.

What are we most excited about? Spending time with family, reconnecting with friends and our neighbors at the beach. We have about ten meals planned for the first two days, not including ice cream. The boys can't wait to get long overdue haircuts and pick out the sugariest cereals at the grocery store. The adults look forward to driving a car - wherever they want, whenever they want, plus the convenience of paying for things with credit card, and trying a few new microbrews.

In our first week back, we'll head to Washington DC. It has been a while since we visited (all together, anyways) and there are new things to see there and old haunts to revisit. This is what the boys looked like the last time we were there:

Other than that, you'll find us at the beach where our door is always open, visitors are always welcome, and the lobster? Boiled and eaten.

Year one in Angola, year eight on the international school circuit is a wrap!

April 21, 2018

Spring Break: Roadschooling around Egypt

It has been a crazy semester here in Luanda between school, work, and various travels. In late January, Jonah went to Nairobi for a week-long workshop. A month after that, Kristen went to Nairobi for a different week-long workshop. The day after she returned, Jonah left for a training in Dubai. Two weeks after he got back, we all set off for spring break in Egypt (we'll get to more on that in just a bit). Within a week of our return to Luanda, Kristen was off to Bangkok for a comprehensive medical check up (all is well). And tomorrow kicks off back-to-back weeks (as in we will be passing through the airport on the same day but won't see each other) of school trip chaperone duty. First up, Kristen will accompany grade 9 and then Jonah will be away with grade 8; both groups are headed to South Africa for camping and hiking.

In the midst of all this, we have escaped to the beach twice, once for an overnight, saw Black Panther, went bowling, checked out a water park not too far from campus, discovered a Lebanese restaurant and a new grocery store option in the city, received our very first piece of snail mail from the USA, visited the pleasantly efficient international clinic for mysterious fevers and malaise (nothing serious), finally got our gas grill up and running, and played lots and lots of Fortnite. It has been so busy that we often forget what month we're in, and then cannot believe that it is so close to the end of the school year, that in just 7 weeks, we'll be flying home for summer. Fastest. School year. Ever.

So before tomorrow's 4:15am alarm, taking a luxuriously lazy day to write about spring break. We chose Egypt because of it's relative proximity, Jonah's lifelong dream to see the pyramids, and a commitment made a few years ago for the family to get scuba certified together, once Liam was old enough. For the first time, we had two weeks off which allowed an ideal amount of time to see the sights and take a PADI Open Water Diver course.

Our travels in Egypt started in Giza, which is just south of Cairo and where the most famous pyramids are found. We stayed at a very modest guest house that had a million dollar view. The rooftop terrace was where we ate breakfast while listening to the call to prayer and had sundowners with a view of the sound and light show.

The neighborhood was full of stables, housing horses and camels that carry people and goods to and from the pyramids. Looking off the other side of the terrace (opposite the pyramids), busy side street where animals spent their off hours.

Since we had arrived Egypt on an overnight flight, we were at the guest house by 7:00am. So the first order of business was breakfast; freshly made falafel and the very best pita bread:

Once all bellies were full, our guide arrived and the tour was quickly underway. Now, let's understand that this post will not attempt to be a lesson in Egyptology - just a few snapshots and basic information that we either recall (less likely) or looked up on Wikipedia (more likely). The amount of information we took in over five days is astounding and to be sure, only a fraction of it retained. 

We started out at Memphis, and explored the outdoor sculpture garden and giant statues of Ramses II - one standing up, one lying down. Always the left foot forward, "leading with one's heart". 

Moving from one location to another, we saw many trucks like this one. It was clearly harvest time for garlic!

After Memphis, we headed back to Giza to see THE Great Pyramids. 

Someone in our group was keen to ride camels, another was indifferent, and two were reluctant. 

But when in Egypt......

We could not figure out why the man with our camera was so insistent that we raise up our arms - really raise them up - high! We obliged, having no clue why this was the pose he was looking for.

Until we looked at the pictures and found the ones like this. We had noticed that he picked up a rock but thought he was using it to shield the sun? Anyway, it's a keeper, no?

After the photo extravaganza, Asa was done with the animal riding activity (and to be fair, his camel was quite grumpy and picking fights with the others) and so he walked the rest of the way (which was not far at all) with the camel man.

After all that excitement and a very full day of learning after not much sleep the night before, it was time to retreat to the guest house and watch the sunset with a local brew in hand.

Day two we ventured into Cairo. It's the biggest city on the continent which is probably why it reminded us of Delhi; crowded with people and cars, polluted, and simply put - intense. We visited the Egyptian Museum, the old neighborhoods of the city, and Coptic Hanging Church.

A stroll through the Khan el-Khalili market before lunch of pita and "ful", stewed fava beans seasoned with salt, chili, cumin, and linseed oil, washed it down with minty lemon juice.

Day three! A short drive south to Dahshur and Saqqara where we visited the Step, Bent, and Red Pyramids:

After three days in the vicinity Cairo, it was time to bid the big city farewell, and catch an afternoon flight to Luxor. Upon arriving at the airport, we found out that there was a three hour delay due to a sandstorm in the region. Well, that slowly evolved into a twenty-two hour stay in the domestic terminal and suffice it to say, there was nothing going on there. On the positive side, we banded together with some delightful fellow travelers (our favorites were two archeologists from Cortez, Colorado), commandeered the "elite" lounge area, pushed chairs together to create makeshift beds, then chatted and dozed off and on through the night. 

The following afternoon we finally made it to Luxor and again, were off and running straightaway. Over two days, we saw: Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Tombs of the Nobles, Luxor Temple, Avenue of Sphinxes, and Karnak Temple. No place was too crowded and we enjoyed hiking around the massive burial grounds, climbing into tombs, taking in the artwork carved and painted on the walls. The history and the stories inscribed within these chambers is overwhelming in both scope and complexity of detail. The photos for sure do not do justice.

Our guide's favorite place in Luxor (his hometown) is the less touristed Ramesseum - the memorial temple built for Ramses II, whose statues we saw in Memphis. This might be our favorite place in Luxor too:

Our guide was a true Egyptologist and on the last stop with him - Karnak Temple Complex - when we were just about out of brain space to absorb anything else he had to say, Jonah captured this tutorial on hieroglyphics:

After Cairo, Luxor was a welcome reprieve with its breezy Nile views, quiet roads, and open spaces. This was sundown at our hotel:

And the view the following morning, before heading to the airport:

On Easter Sunday, after a full week of ancient Egypt, we flew from Luxor to Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh, then drove an hour up the coast of the Sinai Peninsula to the small town of Dahab. The top of this building was our accommodation for the week, a comfortable two bedroom apartment:

View of the Red Sea from the roof:

The next morning, "Team Rosenfield" reported to SCUBA school for what would be the first of four exhausting days. We slept like babies the entire week. 

The best part about doing this course in Dahab was that all water skills were done in the Red Sea. We just walked across the street from the dive center and straight into the ocean. Fish and coral were everywhere - talk about instant gratification! Asa and Liam took to diving like a fish to water. No fear. No complaints. They looked so natural 12 meters under the surface. It was really an amazing sight and wonderful to watch them thrive with this challenge.

During lunch break each day, the boys ordered cheeseburgers from across the street and gobbled them up like candy. And then, they rested:

The center brilliantly assigned the boys to their own instructor. Trish is from the USA, has a heap of extended family in Argentina (she even lived in Palermo for a while), and is a former music teacher. Could she have been a more perfect match?

Each afternoon, Asa and Liam asked to taxi home and we insisted that we walk. It was a nice opportunity to process the day and see the non-touristy areas of Dahab.

On Thursday, we passed the final exam and made the Wall of Fame!

With one more day in town, we opted to do two more dives - our first as fully certified divers and not students. For this, we took a short drive south to an area known as Moray Garden.

Post dive lunch on the beach, complete with camels passing through:

Saying goodbye to the sweet pup at the dive center (his bandana says "Security"):

In summary, Egypt was fantastic - the people we met, the scenery, the food, the history, the clean waters of the Red Sea. It was not a lazy vacation but one that required a bit of "push through the burn" on mostly long days. There was so much to learn and we really did try to take it all in and at the very least, come away with a deeper appreciation of history, the innovation of ancient people, and for those whose passion it is to tell their stories.