Sunday, September 09, 2001

Diary 2: 9/9/01

Dear friends and family:

There is so much to write this week, and we are so short on the organizational skills to put it all in coherent order. If things get a bit muddled, you will need to forgive us, and know that we will do better in the coming weeks.

Contrary to popular believe, we will not select a popular song as a backdrop for *each* letter we send. We thank everyone for their suggestions, including "Play That Funky Music White Boy" and the entire first half of "Dark Side of the Moon". This is to avoid prosecution from RIAA as much as anything else.

As you can imagine, emotions ran high this week. The simplest tasks like driving to school or the grocery store were adventures; we could measure the things we knew with a thimble - the things we don't know could fill an ocean. Sometimes this was OK. The newness made everything exciting, from the taste of food to a walk around the block to finding an english-language newspaper. Other times it was very not-ok, and we found ourselves holding each other for dear life and crying our fears out onto the bedsheets.

The apartment is OK (as in "small but OK"), but there were hiccoughs to work through in the beginning. The stove-top was shattered when we arrived and it wasn't until Tuesday that it was fixed. We only had 2 sets of towels here, and it took until Monday to get more. Nobody seemed to be able to find the garage keys (or even tell us which spot was ours!). Thursday, this was all sorted out. But obviously each stress point was unwelcome, and we had to work hard to remain positive in the face of these relatively minor inconveniences.

The children (especially Heather and Isabelle) are frequently our sources of strength these days. Very little is upsetting to them, and almost everything is funny or at least interesting. Heather is able to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, and that usually helps us to get the information we grown-ups need. Isabelle has taken to announcing each "roundabout" when we find them (there are many here, used instead of stoplights). And Joram's love of bread has reached new heights here.

They started school on Tuesday, and have taken it as their own. Friends were found quickly - Heather had a "play date" on Wednesday, and Isabelle had one on Friday. The children in their classes come from a wide range of backgrounds - some are "mixed" marriages of Swiss citizens and ex-patriots from places like Sweden or Portugal or Malaysia; some are children whose entire family are Swiss citizens, but who want the international education; and a rare few are from families like ours.

We drive the girls to school each morning and drop them off, so we have a chance to see the other parents. The mix of languages is astounding as we hear standard parental admonitions ("have a good day", "see you this afternoon", etc) in french, spanish, swedish, chinese, and even hebrew.

Meanwhile, Debbie and Leon started house-hunting on the same day. There are a few things we've learned from this:
1) For 4500 swiss francs per month, you can rent just about any house you want. (this equals $2650.00).
2) If you get a real-estate agent, they CAN'T show you everything in town, just the stuff that is on THEIR list. This means you have to work with many many many agents. Of course, we found that out AFTER we wasted the week with a single agency.
3) Nestle is buying up all the homes in Vevey, but Phillip Morris is buying up all the homes in Lausanne. And we want to live in Lausanne. Figures.

We remain hopeful, but it was a disappointing week none the less.

On Friday, Leon's boss Francisco took us out car-hunting. This was much more successful. That day we found a wonderful car for Debbie - an Opel "Zafira" - a Swiss-size 7-seat mini-van. It's slightly used (was driven off the lot in April of 2001) and has 11,000 kilometers (around 6000 miles) on it. So it we got it for just 28,000 francs ($16,470). We were very impressed.

At the same time as Leon was doing the paperwork on the car, Debbie was back at the apartment getting our air shipment. This was a very exciting thing for us since many important items were on the air shipment - a case of Kraft Mac and Cheese, more computer equipment for Leon, and diapers.

On the way home from buying the car, Leon got to experience Swiss services up-close. Ahead of him on the road was there was a terrible accident - one car crossed sharply across the road and slammed into the car ahead of him, then continued to swerve out of control and (slightly) hit Leon's car.

There was so much to be thankful for: In the end, everyone involved was OK and (miraculously) unhurt. Nobody else was in the car with Leon. Leon's car was still drive-able. It was the rental and not the new car. It underscored for us the fact that this is still *life*, that anything can happen here just like everywhere else, and that we just need to keep going in the face of it all, and find those experiences that inform this time in our lives.

It also showed us that even now we (the grown-ups) have made more friends than maybe we realize. Debbie knew the phone number of another "Mom" who could pick up Heather at school and bring her back to our place. Leon had several friends at work to call for help translating what the police said and offering advice on how the process would go.

Believe it or not, Friday was not over yet - we still had a party to attend! Leon's project team (GLOBE) was having an "all hands" BBQ. Hundreds of people were there. We all had a great time and got some good information from people who have been here longer than us and have encountered some of the same problems (even car accidents. Back in February, in the first weekend of this project, 20% of the rental cars distributed were in accidents. So much that a company memo went out asking GLOBE participants to "please try very hard not to crash the cars.")

On Saturday, Francisco and Leon went out again and bought a second car (an Opel Corsa). We got another Opel because they are nice cars, and because dealerships (and repair shops) are all over the place.

Of course, in Switzerland, you don't just go in and buy a car. We get a contract, which Leon then takes back to Nestle. While Nestle puts together the loan for the cars, the dealership is cleaning and "preparing" the car for delivery. It's all very anal-retentive, which fits right in here.

After that, all of us packed up into the car and headed off for "God's country" in Switzerland, which means over the hill, through the woods, past about a million sunflower fields, past 900,000 cows, up half a mountain, and onto a camp grounds. I should add that all of this is about 40 minutes from our apartment. We are not sure what the big deal is with sunflowers, but this place is lousy with them!

Anyway, we were going to the girls' start-of-school picnic. We got to meet some really wonderful people there, and again were able to make contact with folks who have been through much of the challenges we face, and who can (hopefully) guide us around some of the problem spots.

On Sunday, Heather celebrated her first double-digit birthday by... going to someone else's birthday party. Another girl in her class has the same birthday, and invited everyone over. We plan a smaller celebration tonight with just us. But it is truly an auspicious start to the week.

That pretty much sums up the week. However, there were notable moments that didn't fit in anywhere above, so I have to mention them now.

After a great deal of questioning, we finally got "our day" for laundry. Yes, our day. It is Saturday. If we want to do laundry on Monday, we are out of luck. We have mentioned this to Joram in regard to his alarmingly active bowels. I'm not sure it will help, but we remain optimistic. We found a very helpful neighbor who showed us how to use the washing machine and dryer, and (7 loads later) we have more cloths than you can shake a stick at.

PLEASE READ THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH AGAIN AND NOTE: Do not send us clothes. We have no room to put it. We have no more time in "our day" to wash it. And we only barely know how to work the machine, so if you send us something weird, we will probably ruin it.

Seriously, we are doing fine, and send anything you want. Except for Debbie's Mom, who is banned from entering our home with anything resembling children's cloths or (worse) children's shoes. The 4 pairs she bought each girl right before we left were quite enough!

Another note for the postally-minded among you: open all packages and remove price tags before sending, and perhaps write "used cloths" or "used books" or just "papers" on the box or else we will have to pay a tariff on it.

While we have found that french toast works well here, our attempts to modify crepe-mix into pancakes was less than successful. Anyone with good recipes for pancake mix are welcome to email us here or directly to Debbie (

Finally, we just want to comment that this place has the biggest slugs we have ever seen! No wonder they eat them here - 2 or 3 makes a meal. It's disgusting, but interesting none the less.

Looking toward the coming week, we are preparing for Leon's return to work (although nobody expects full-time hours), a 3 day trip to the Alps for Heather's grade, and 2 or 3 parent meetings for Debbie.

Despite the flurry of activity, we miss you all terribly and think of everyone often. Please write, email, or call - it helps ease the home-sickness and lets us digest events as we relate them to you.

Take care and look for our next installment soon!
Leon, Debbie, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram.

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