Sunday, April 28, 2013

Seven Globetrotters

Well, it’s my last weekend in Tunis and it’s been forever since I blogged.  So much has happened since the attack in September.  The Embassy is almost back to “normal” in that we’ve fixed things and upgraded other things – I’m glad I stuck around to see that happen.  It provides me with a sense of closure I might not otherwise have had if I’d left earlier.

Tunis was supposed to be my quiet, boring, assignment.  It was anything but, and I’m so glad for that.  Turns out that quiet and boring aren’t my thing.  Not that I’d want to go through this again, but it was such a tremendous learning experience for me, both personally and professionally.  On the personal level, I learned to be ok with being by myself for the first time in my life.  I’ve missed my Things so, so much, but I’ve also realized during this time how much I’d lost myself when I became “Mom”.  I’m looking forward to having them back with me, but am also going to be sure to be more balanced in my approach to parenting.  Professionally, I’ve learned a lot about the Department, and how we do such a tremendous job of taking care of each other in times of crisis.  So many people were involved and invested in seeing our Embassy recover.  I learned how strong and resilient my colleagues are, in particular my local colleagues.  I’ll miss them the most.

And I made friends.  Good friends.  Friends that I think will be friends for life.  When our community suddenly became much smaller it became a sink or swim situation for all of us, and we all chose to swim.  We boosted each other’s morale when things got tough.  We bonded over failed attempts at Paleo cooking (Note:  It is possible to make brownies look like potting soil. End Note.), we improvised when our gym was burnt to a crisp and formed a P90X group who met after work in my bedroom.  We became the Vadge-Pack.  Yeah, it’s exactly what you think it is.

But the most important thing that happened to me during this time was that I fell in love.  The day of the attack, as I was sitting in the safe haven and thought I was going to die, I emailed the people that mattered most to me – my children via their dad, my parents and sisters, and my best friend.  I didn’t want to die without telling her that I loved her and I did, for the first time.  Turns out, she loves me too. 

And so I think it’s time to rename this blog because we will no longer be Four Globetrotters, but Seven.  I head back to D.C. next week for my onward assignment, during which time we’ll get married and prepare to head out to discover the world with our expanded crew.  Thank you to everyone who has been supportive of my efforts to blog about the craziness that is my life during this tour and I hope you enjoy this rebranded blog: Seven Globetrotters – The Adventures of a Modern Brady Bunch.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cleaning Up

There are a lot of emotions at play following a violent incident.

At first you feel relieved, elated even.  No one was seriously injured during our attack.  Major, major credit for that goes to our security team -- in particular our RSO who demonstrated tremendous leadership -- and our Front Office for making the call earlier in the day to get people off the compound.

Then there's shock.  Things happened quickly for us after the attack.  Within 36 hours Washington had arranged for a charter plane to come get our families and non-emergency personnel out of Tunis. I worked all day Saturday.  I didn't get to see my kids until Saturday night.  I hadn't seen them since Friday morning when I sent them off to school.  On our last night together I let the kids sleep in bed with me.  The following morning I had to wake them up to put them on a bus to get on a plane to leave.  I was in a daze for several days, working on adrenaline but not entirely processing the magnitude of what had happened.

The bus with my kids (and friends and colleagues) heading to the airport Sunday morning.

Then there's anger.  Anger that people would attack us the way they did.  Anger that the host government didn't do more to prevent it, or respond immediately when we called for help.  This wasn't a game of capture the flag and burn a little stuff in the process.  The attackers were intent on killing people.  It was blatantly obvious.

That level of pure hatred caught me by surprise.  Tunisians by and large are kind, friendly people.  I haven't felt unsafe in Tunis, even after going through the "revolution" in January 2011.  I don't really feel unsafe now either.  I have full confidence in my Front Office and our RSO office.  It is clear to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the safety of mission personnel is their number one priority.  It's why I wanted to stay to help clean up and rebuild.


"You killed Bin Laden and we are all Bin Laden"

"There is no god but god.  We are all Bin Laden.  There is no god but god."

Our mail room.  :(  

On a side note, I've been asked by multiple people why I was "forced" to stay in Tunis.  I was not forced to stay here. My Front Office and my colleagues at post have always been very understanding of my personal circumstances.  I was given the option to leave with everyone else but I wanted to stay here.  I knew the operations best, have previous crisis management experience, and could speak both French and Arabic.  The Department and the taxpayers put a lot of time and money into me and my training.  They deserved to get their money's worth.  I realized that staying here would mean a separation from my children, and while that is very difficult for me, I know the kids are safe with their dad.  It was important to me to stay here and I think my children understand (or will eventually) why.  I also need to thank everyone that helped get my kids to Frankfurt, took care of them in Frankfurt and then got them back to the U.S.  It really does take a village, and I love my little village.

After anger comes resolve.  Our compound sustained a lot of damage.  We lost 111 motorized vehicles.  The attackers destroyed pretty much anything that wasn't Forced Entry/Ballistic Resistant (FE/BR).  There were lots of things to clean up.  Speaking of FE/BR, I am beyond impressed by how well those things worked and I'm really, really glad we were in one of the New Embassy Compounds.  The security features worked really well.  There were no major injuries on our end and we were able to hunker down and wait for the events to play out.

That Saturday a handful of us were authorized to come in and take stock of what had happened.  There were still some fires going.  I was given the go ahead to call in some of my staff to immediately start the process of securing the Embassy and cleaning up.

Employee Parking Lot
And here's where I need to stop for a little bit to acknowledge our local staff.  In many ways this attack has been worse for them that it was for the American staff.  The Embassy is their livelihood.  They are worried about their personal safety. Many, many of them lost cars in the attack.  Buying a car here is NOT easy.  Even though the Department is reimbursing employees since insurance won't (BTW, kudos to the Department!!), they will still go months without a car.  Most of our employees are in single car households.  This is a tremendous burden on them and their families.

Notwithstanding all this, every single person I called in showed up.  That Saturday the air was still thick with tear gas.  Much of the work that had to be done was outdoors.  The local staff never complained.  They donned face masks and worked for hours, in the heat.  It was a point of pride for them.  And I have never been more proud that I am now to be leading such a dedicated, hard working and loyal team.  They motivate me.  Every single day since the attack they have done what has been asked of them and more.

I already spoke of the heroics of our motor pool team but allow me to go into a little more detail.  Even though I had explicitly told them not to risk their lives, that I didn't care if the entire motor pool went up in smoke, none of it was worth any of them getting hurt, they acted swiftly when they saw the attackers trying to set fire to our gasoline pump.  Although we had turned off the pump earlier in the day as a precaution, we still didn't know for sure what would happen if anyone tried to set it on fire.  The motor pool team sprung into action and confronted the attackers, attackers that had been taunting them through the glass, gesturing that they were going to slit their throats and set them on fire.  They extinguished the fire at the gas pump, and since they were already out there, decided to hop into any car that wasn't on fire and drive it to safety.  They drove our vehicles through the parking lot as their own vehicles were being torched.  One even stopped to take video of his car being set on fire.

Some of our local guards were trapped in here for over two hours
And I also want to acknowledge our local guard staff.  They bore the brunt of the attack and had much reason to fear for their lives.  They were brave and stood their posts.  Their quick, decisive actions undoubtedly helped save lives that day.  And they continue to show up to work every day, undaunted.

Like I said, truly amazing.  No one wants to go through something like this.  Processing my own emotions post-attack has been challenging.  I masked and numbed it some by staying incredibly busy the first couple weeks.  As we now shift into our new normal and the pace has slowed some, I've had time to think about everything.  I am glad I stayed.  To my colleagues that wanted to stay but couldn't and feel guilt over it, don't.  I know it's easier to say than it is to do, but try.  You've all done amazing work both in Frankfurt (Tunis North) and in D.C.  Our Tunis North colleagues in particular deserve special kudos -- they have been coordinating the entire vehicle claims process remotely.

And now for some pictures of the clean up:


Ambassador confers with security personnel the day after
In the time I have left at post, I look forward to continuing to help with the rebuilding efforts, and to continuing to grow and learn from this experience.  I know I will be a much better officer because of it.  I am lucky to have such great leaders to emulate.  Our Front Office was truly inspirational during this crisis, both in the immediate and in the aftermath.

 I have 100% faith and confidence in our RSO.  I am lucky and proud to work for the Department of State.  From the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Management on down, our needs -- financial, logistical, emotional, security -- are being met.  Everything we've asked for, we've received.  Additional security?  Check!  Cars?  Check and then some!  They flew in a plane with seven armored vehicles!  Money to buy new cars?  Check!  TDY support?  Check!

My employer cares.  How many people can say that about their employer?

Thursday, October 11, 2012


The last time I posted I was on my way to Washington with my three children to enjoy a month of home leave.  I had just completed two years in Tunis, been through the Jasmine Revolution, learned Arabic, and was eager to return to post and work really hard for two more years.  Today I find myself alone in my living room.  My house is quiet and sad.  My three favorite Things are back in the U.S. and won't be returning to Tunis again.  I will be separated from them for nine months -- though I am planning to fly back and see them as often as I can.  How did I get here?  I'm ready to blog about it now.

Patriot Day, Tuesday, September 11, 2012:  Thing 1 turns 14. During the day I followed the events in Cairo, and heard of protests in Benghazi.   Word got out that someone had died when protesters breached the compound.  Not many details shared.  I was called around midnight to prepare for a possible evacuation of Embassy Tripoli overland to Tunisia.  Began preparations to fly down to the Tunisia/Libya border to assist.  No sleep that night as information continued to trickle in.  Someone was missing, no one said who it was.  I had friends in Benghazi.  I had friends in Tripoli.  One of my staff members was TDY'd to Tripoli.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012:  More details coming out of Benghazi.  My friends, thank goodness, are safe.  The situation is obviously much more serious than we had all initially thought. Tunis won't have a role in the evacuation of Tripoli or Benghazi.  My team stands down.  That afternoon a group of demonstrators show up in front of our Embassy. Tunisian security forces disperse the crowd with tear gas.    The grief on Facebook is palpable.  Someone describes the Foreign Service as a small town of 10,000 spread across the globe.  They're so right.  My stomach turns as I walk past the flag at half-staff for my colleagues.

September 13, 2012:  Protesters attack the Embassy in Sanaa.  We get word to expect a demonstration at our Embassy the following day, September 14.  Something tells me to leave my car at home the next day so I arrange to grab a ride with a coworker the following day.

September 14, 2012:  Morning: I get up at my regular time, and decide to dress casually that day.  I don't often do so. I also decide to bring my camera with me and walk around in the morning and take pictures of the Embassy compound, focusing in particular on the motor pool.

Motor Pool.  Before.

Walk around with my A/GSO and we look at things as if we were the bad guys.  What should we do?  We decide to switch off the gasoline pump and take a few other precautionary measures.  I instructed my warehouse crew to bring mattresses and other supplies into the Chancery, just in case.  "Just in case" is my mantra for the day.  Several of my colleagues tease me good naturedly.  My office looks like an episode of Hoarders.

Noon:  Anxiety is rising a little bit.  Riot police are lined up outside the Embassy, concertina wire rolled out, but no protesters yet.  It's time for Friday prayers.  The American School closes.  I arrange to have my children go home with another Embassy family.  The Embassy announces early release.  Many employees leave.

Getting ready

1400:  Protesters start to show up.  From my vantage point I see several hundred.  Over the radio we get reports from across the city.  A crowd of about 1000 coming from the airport area.  A crowd of 2000 coming from an area east of the Embassy.  It's obvious quickly that the security forces are not going to be able to control an unruly crowd.

Shortly after police used tear gas to disperse the crowd

Tear gas

1430:  Police use tear gas to try to disperse crowds.  Protesters have now surrounded the Embassy on all sides.  Security forces were only set up on one side.  This is bad.  Over the radio we hear reports coming in. They're on the walls.

1500 - ?:  All employees are ordered to the safe haven.  Everyone dutifully files in, deposits their cell phones since the safe haven is a phone-free zone.  Reports continue to come in.  The motor pool is on fire.  The rec center is on fire.  The employee parking lot is on fire.  Protesters are on the roof of the Chancery.  We immediately begin to do what we know to do.  Destroy classified.  I hear the sound of sledge hammers pounding away, comforted to know that my colleagues are destroying the classified material.  The sound of the hammers echo through the Embassy, making the walls vibrate.  Find out that sound isn't coming from within.  The protesters are at our windows and are intent on getting in.  They are attempting to set fire to the Chancery, dousing the building with gasoline and setting it on fire.  My mind flashes back to the images from Benghazi, just a few days prior.  I visualize the caskets of my dead colleagues on board the C-130 in Tripoli.

A faint smell of smoke begins to waft through the safe haven, where I'm sitting with 103 of my colleagues, some of whom are panicking and crying.  I'm trying very hard to project calm and confidence.  The fire alarm goes off.  Someone decides to go get everyone's cell phones so we can start calling our loved ones.  I sent three quick emails from my blackberry -- to my ex-husband:  "In safehaven.  People are on the compound, on roof.  Tell the kids I love them so much. If the worst happens don't let them forget me.", one to my parents and my sisters, and one to my very special person.  I'm worried sick about my motor pool team, stuck in an outside building.

1630:  I decide to leave the safe haven and along with a friend from A-100 start up a task force in the Front Office, set up a log and let the training kick in.  Keeping busy helps.  Repeated phone calls with Washington, host government officials, the White House, the Secretary.  On the TV we see the President and the Secretary at Dover Air Force base receiving the caskets of our colleagues.  Surreal doesn't even begin to describe the experience.  It's evident that the host government cannot or will not protect our Embassy.

1730?:  My motor pool team makes its way into the Chancery.  They're covered in soot, traumatized and out of breath.  They report that the protesters attempted to set the gas pump on fire but failed because we had turned it off that morning.  The motor pool team reports that they chose to leave the safety of their building and try to save whatever vehicles they could, confronting protesters along the way.  Rather than saving their own cars they hopped into any official vehicle they could find that wasn't on fire and drove through protesters to get the vehicles off the compound and into a safe area.  Were it not for that we would have lost our entire motor pool.

2100 or so:  The situation is finally under control and we prepare to leave under the protection of heavily armed men.  Before we leave the Embassy we're advised to find something to put over our mouths and noses because the tear gas is everywhere.  Even with our faces covered, people are choking and gagging as we jog to cars provide by the host government to whisk us away.

2230 or so:  I finally make it home.  Because I need to return to the Embassy early the following morning I arrange to have my children overnight with the other Embassy family.  Exhausted, I start packing suitcases for them.  Though no one has said so, I know that they will have to leave.

Saturday, September 15:  I get to see the damage for the first time in the light of day.  It breaks my heart, but motivates me like you wouldn't believe.  First order of business, get the flag back up.

To be continued...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two Down, Two To Go

I'm on a plane in a few hours, heading off for a mid-tour home leave.  It's hard to believe it's been almost two years since we arrived at post!  What a ride!

This past week has been a bit hectic as I worked to get everything on my "to-do" list done.  Earlier this week we had some civil unrest and have spent the last three nights under curfew.  So that's been a bit stressful, not because we feel unsafe but mostly because our flight is scheduled in the middle of the night and that flight has been delayed by several hours the last few nights, meaning that we would have missed our connection from Europe to the U.S.  But now it looks like we'll be able to leave as planned and won't miss our connecting flight in Europe, which is a total bummer because I've spent the last three days planning to have to spend a day in Europe.  And naturally to me that meant pork.   My inner fat kid has been squealing with delight.  But now my inner fat kid is like the kid with the ice cream cone in the Eddie Murphy "Ice Cream" bit from Delirious.

Catch everyone on the flip side! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nipples, Nipples, Everywhere

My Foreign Service blogger friend Jen was recently removed from the State Department's official blogroll for "not being Foreign Service enough" and because her blog "wouldn't appeal to those applicants interested in learning about life in the Foreign Service".  Her crime?  Blogging about her recent experience dealing with breast cancer, reconstructive surgery, etc. Being a diplomat I won't comment on what I think of this decision.  They're morons... oh crap, there goes my Tourette's again.

I think her story is great for those interested in a career in the Foreign Service.  See, the Foreign Service isn't a job.  It's a lifestyle.  And it is actually pretty awesome.  I've been doing this for 11 years and I still wake up excited to go to work.  Why?  Because I work for a great organization.  Among many other things the organization does well, it does a good job of taking care of families.  Case in point, when Jen found out that she had breast cancer while her spouse was in Iraq, he was on a plane home to his family in a matter of hours.  When it became clear that she would be undergoing multiple surgeries and treatments, the Department found her husband a job in Washington so that he could be around to help her and their three kids.  The Office of Medical Services worked with the family once things were stable to find them a suitable onward assignment.  I think this story is a win for the Department.  The Department does a great job of taking care of its people.

Anyhow in protest a bunch of us FS bloggers are going to write about nipples today.  I'm going to use the word nipple as much as I possibly can.  Nipple, Nipple, Nipple.  Good, now I will never be on the official blogroll.  So here's something I learned the hard way about nipples.  Did you know that for most people one nipple is more sensitive than the other?  I didn't.  That is, I didn't until the day -- many, many years ago -- that I decided I would have my nipples pierced.  I was going through a rather rebellious phase at the time and found myself in Amsterdam with my best friend and with very little common sense.  Somehow getting our nipples pierced seemed like a good idea.

So we walked around Amsterdam for several hours, working up the nerve to go into a tattoo/piercing parlor.  We finally walked in and explained to the man what we wanted to do and he walked us in to a dark room in the back and instructed us to take our shirts off.

"So," he asked, "which nipple is more sensitive?"

I had no idea and I certainly wasn't about to try and figure it out in front of him.  "Uh, the left one," I guessed.  I figured I had a 50/50 shot at getting that right.

"OK, we'll do that one first cause it's going to hurt but at least you'll know that it's the worst of it and we can do the second one right after."

I was wrong.

PS:  That story is very old.  Many years ago.
PPS:  I very quickly decided that it was not the look for me.
PPPPS:  Solidarity, Jen!  Nipples of the world unite!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Turns Out, Condoms Taste Gross

Recently my post hired a new nurse to work in our medical unit.  Her first task was to conduct a thorough inventory and in the course of this inventory she discovered two huge boxes full of condoms.  The medical unit decided to make the condoms available to all and put out a jar in their waiting room that they may or may not have been replenishing on a daily basis (allegedly).

I had heard third hand about the massive condom discovery of 2012, but today a friend and I wandered into the med unit for the first time in a long time and got to see the jar first hand.

Purple condoms.  I turned to my friend.

"Dude, are those flavored condoms?  OMG, PURPLE PROBABLY MEANS GRAPE FLAVOR!" I exclaimed a little too loudly, as I reached into the jar.  Purple Kool-Aid was always my favorite.  It's part of my inner fat kid psyche.  My friend rolled her eyes.  I sniffed the packet but couldn't really smell anything due to slight cold, so I stuck it under my friend's nose.  "Eww!  I don't want to sniff your condom!" she shouted, disgusted.  She's kind of unhelpful and selfish like that.

It dawned on me quickly that there was only one way to settle this.  I opened the condom packet.

No grape smell.  

I was disappointed.  Not only was the condom not grape flavored, I had now wasted a perfectly good (though not delicious it turns out) condom and was wracked with guilt.  OK, OK, I'm Italian, so guilt to me is like oxygen to normal people, but I still felt a little bad about the wasted condom.  I decided I could redeem myself by single-handedly sparing my colleagues and friends from the disappointment of the non-delicious purple condoms.

First I blew up the condom into a gigantic balloon (Note:  I've never done this before, I swear, even when I taught sex-ed to college freshmen and advocated condom use during oral sex.  Turns out, condoms taste really gross.  My lips were numb for three hours.  I understand now why they looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested it.  It was either that or the banana. End Note.).  Then I drew a smiley face on him and wrote "Why YES!  I AM happy to see you (even though I'm not delicious)!" on his back because he totally did look happy, despite his shortcomings.  I left him on the doctor's chair.

And then so that others wouldn't have to suffer like I did, I put a note on the jar.

You're welcome, Embassy.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Don't Know Why

I don't know why I haven't posted, but dang do I miss you guys!  It's like I'm busy or something.  The Things and I are doing really well.  Life is good and we couldn't be happier.  Work has been nuts with visits and more, but it's a good kind of nuts since I love what I do and I love the people I work with.

We've made an effort to travel more over the past few months, so I thought I'd share some pictures of our adventures.  I've even included some of me because for the first time in a long time I don't feel self-conscious about having my picture taken.  Thank you, Paleo! Sorry the formatting is a bit screwy.  I made the pictures as large as possible so that they would be easier to see.

In December ex-Mr. Globetrotter came to visit but could only stay a few days.  We took advantage of the opportunity to go on a little road trip to El Jem, site of an ancient Roman Colosseum.

Thing 1 probably won't talk to me after he sees that I've posted this picture for the whole world to see

The Things were feeling a bit down that their dad could only visit for a few days so I asked them what we could do to make it better.  Thing 3 said he wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, so off to Paris we went for New Year's.  As luck would have it, I can't find any pictures of our trip.  No idea what happened but massively bummed.  For me, pictures are like an insurance policy.  Years from now when my kids are in therapy (and with me as a mother they surely will be) I will point to all the pictures we took on our adventures in a futile attempt to convince them that their childhoods weren't really that bad.  

(EDIT:  I found them!!!  All of the above still holds true.)

The Eiffel Tower at night

We rented a little apartment in the Montmartre area, and just a block from us was a little Christmas street fair.

We gorged on roasted chestnuts -- my favorite winter treat!

Thing 1 and Thing 2 in front of Montmartre

Four of us at Moulin Rouge

That awkward moment when your first grader can sound out words and doesn't understand why you won't let him go to the toy store.

Near the Louvre

We had to go to Angelina's for the hot chocolate.

It was amazing and thick and we all felt sick after drinking it and eating pastries.

One of my favorite photos!

Jumping at the Louvre

Someone made a statue of me nekkid.

Yeah, I know.  We're kind of immature.

We walked from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe.  The kids were sort of irritated and cranky at that point so no pics of them!

In January one of my good friends came to Tunis on a work-related visit, and we took advantage of the opportunity to visit more ancient Roman sites.  Here are some pictures of Dougga and Bulla Reggia.

Me pointing at pretty flower or maybe it was a penis, symbol of fertility.  I can't remember.

Look!  It's a temple thingy!

A better shot of temple thingy

More temple

Learning about mosaics at Bulla Reggia

The countryside near Bulla Reggia

February was a busy month, with a short-fuse visit of Secretary Clinton.  Here's a picture I took of the plane as it pulled up on the tarmac:

I also got a pretty decent tan that day. Thank you, tarmac.

No matter how many visits I work, I just makes me feel so damn patriotic whenever I see this plane, particularly when I'm far away from home.

March was Spring Break and the perfect opportunity to head down to the Sahara Desert before it got too hot.  The Things said this was the best vacation we've ever taken.

This was the first time the Things have been on a propeller plane.  They weren't fans.  Ha, ha.  Get it?


Nefta with a Star Wars prop

Running Down a Sand Dune in the Sahara

A Star Wars set in the middle of the desert

Another shot of the set

Ong El Jamel -- The Neck of the Camel

We stopped in Tozeur and went ziplining

We checked out an oasis.  I think it's Chebika.

More Oasis

And then we rented quads and took them out into the desert

Riding Quads in the desert

The Red Lizard -- Train ride through the desert and canyons.  Parts of the English Patient and a few other famous movies were filmed here.

One of many pictures from the train ride

Camel ride...Thing 3's camel was a bit too big for him.  He hung on for dear life.

Taking a break from the camels

Matmata -- Troglodyte dwelling used for one of the original Star Wars films

I cannot remember the name of this vilage but they make beautiful carpets and have rosemary tea and honey.

Drinking rosemary tea and eating rosemary honey

Ever since I learned that the Star Wars movies were filmed in Tunisia and that Tataouine is an actual city, I've wanted to visit. 


More Tataouine

The boys exploring Tataouine

The pictures don't do it justice.  It's just gorgeous.

We headed to the island of Djerba and stopped at the Gallela museum.  The museum showcased Tunisian traditions and customs from the various regions.

This was my favorite "scene" -- a circumcision.  The guy with the scissors was just too much. 

Also on the island of Djerba?  A tight knit Jewish community with their own synagogue.  Jews and Muslims live side-by-side peacefully.  Too bad the rest of the region can't follow suit.

After four days of traveling, we were ready for some R&R.  The view from our hotel room at the El Mouradi, after we got upgraded to the Presidential suite.

It's EER season so I'm focused on keeping words like "dumbass" and "underwhelming" out of mine, but hopefully when that's over I'll have more time to share bits of our lives with all of you.  As they say in my hood, inshallah!