Saturday, December 26, 2009

December 26, 2009: Our first Christmas in Cyprus

We had friends from Germany staying with us for the nine days before Christmas, which we enjoyed very much. Some more sightseeing around Cyprus, lots of games of Settlers of Catan, and they even babysat one evening so we could visit some other friends, taking only Helen with us. :-)

On the 24th we celebrated "German Christmas", as that's when Germans celebrate normally, and as Peter and Christin were leaving on the 25th in the wee hours. That meant we got to light the candles on the tree a day earlier than usual, as my husband won't let me light them until we open presents, and as he's married to a U.S.-ian who thinks it's silly to open presents after dinner and have hyper children who don't want to go to bed, we generally celebrate on the 25th. But the few "German presents" didn't take that long, and the children went to bed fairly happily, still anticipating Christmas morning. They weren't even that upset about saying goodbye to Peter and Christin, as we'll see them in Germany in February.

The rest of us then played two last games of Settlers of Catan, and at 1:15 I went to bed and Jörn took Peter and Christin to the airport. When he got back 20 minutes later, I asked if everything was fine, and he said, "Yes, it was quieter than usual--apparently, not many people want to fly on the 25th."

We didn't get woken until almost 7:30, and bought ourselves a little more time in bed (but with several children bouncing on us, so not sleeping) by sending Marie to make the birthday cake. Once that was in the oven, we all got up and lit the candles on the tree again.

Rather than the free-for-all I grew up with, we all take turns taking a gift from under the tree and handing it to the right person. I imagine that "normal" children would choose something that they think is for themselves, but this is one of the times that I'm glad my children aren't normal. :-) I myself am not at all into gift-giving and would rather do away with it all together, but the children have apparently all inherited their father's main love-language and delight in giving gifts. Katie started, and chose the gift that she had made at preschool (where, two days a week, I work and she attends) for us. Then Lukas excitedly chose a gift from himself to one of his siblings, and on it went. The children were always pleasantly surprised and grateful for what they received, but were over-the-moon hyper with excitement about what they gave.

Around 10:00 the phone rang--it was Peter. Last week the airport in Frankfurt (which was where they were flying) had been closed because of snow, forcing 3000 people to spend the night there, so I said, "So you made it! Good!" Peter said, "No, actually we liked Cyprus so much that we decided to stay--we're in Ayia Napa!" I laughed and said that I know that I'm gullible and tend to believe whatever people tell me, but I wasn't falling for it this time. I could hear Christin laughing hysterically in the background, and it took awhile, but they finally convinced me that they were, indeed, in a hotel in Ayia Napa. The runway lights weren't working, so everyone had been taken by bus to a hotel in Ayia Napa, where they had gotten to bed around 3:30 and had just finished a big breakfast! They said that the hotel was nice and the food was good, but it was awful being surrounded by so many "fat tourists" and the "scenery" basically consisted of one hotel after another. They were very glad to have seen a bit more of the "real" Cyprus with us that most tourists ever do. They were going to be taken back to the airport at 11:30, and with a direct flight to Frankfurt, I imagine that they did eventually arrive.

I did find an article on-line about the airport closure, but wasn't able to confirm if they now have the runway lights fixed. I selfishly certainly hope so, as we're flying at 3:00 a.m. in two days!! We have a six-hour lay-over in Frankfurt (after changing planes in Prague), so there's a little bit of lee-way, but as our flights are not connecting (we booked separate tickets from here to Frankfurt and back, and from Frankfurt to San Francisco and back, which was considerably less expensive that booking all the way from Cyprus to San Francisco), I'm not sure what would happen if we were to miss the other flight--and I don't particularly want to find out, either. We were concerned about weather in Prague and Frankfurt, but it never occurred to us to wonder if Larnaca Airport would be open!!!

Anyway, we eventually finished opening our gifts, some people sort of had breakfast (they'd already been eating gummy bears and chocolate and such all morning--nobody even wanted any of the chocolate birthday cake...), and around noon we headed for the home of Sue and Richard, as we'd been invited to Christmas dinner and afternoon/evening with them.

Christmas dinner was scrumptious (tender, HOT turkey--not something I'm used to!) and the company was even better. The children behaved fairly decently, for the most part. I love visiting people, but sometimes find my own children's behavior to be so stressful for me (even when it's not even bothering our hosts) that I can't always relax as much as I'd like to. After dinner, chatting, and dessert (half a dozen different delicious things, for which we didn't have room, but didn't let that stop us!!), we drugged some of the children with a movie, and the adults (five of us, as Sue and Richard's son Tim was also there, visiting from England) and Jacob played Settlers of Catan with the Seafarers extention, which they had received for Christmas. I'm rather "Settler-ed out" (and I know we'll have three more weeks of it in the U.S...), but as always, the best part is the people. :-)

We lazed around comfortably for quite awhile, nibbling and chatting, then had a concert by Tim (piano) and Marie (violin), and around 8:30, as some of the children were starting to lose it, decided we'd better leave before things escalated.

Children to bed, and we weren't long in following--and didn't get woken up for good this morning until nearly 9:00!! (The previous post is about this morning...) Today we have about 18 YWAM people coming at 2:00 for lunch and singing (oh yeah--I'm supposed to be looking for the words to a few songs in various languages...) and exchanging "white elephant" or "monster" gifts. I'm trying desparately to get clothes washed and dried (and it started raining about half an hour ago...I might actually put the drying rack in my bedroom and turn on the heating, as I'm running out of other options) for packing tomorrow afternoon/evening, and then we're off. And after those next six weeks (three in the U.S., which will include a wedding, two anniversaries, three days at Disneyland, three birthdays, and maybe even some time with friends, and then three in Germany, for which we already have over 30 different meetings with people planned...), we are REALLY going to need a vacation...

December 26, 2009: A counting song (to the tune of "Ten in the Bed")

There were two in the bed and the little one said,

"Scoot over, scoot over!"

So they both scooted over and Helen climbed in.

There were three in the bed and another one said,

"Scoot over, scoot over!"

So they all scooted over and Katie climbed in.

There were four in the bed, but she wouldn't stop talking, so Mommy said,

"Go to your bed, go to your bed!"

So Katie went away and three went to sleep.

There were three in the bed and another one said,

"Scoot over, scoot over!"

So they all scooted over and Jacob climbed in.

There were four in the bed and another one said,

"Scoot over, scoot over!"

So they all scooted over and Lukas climbed in.

There were five in the bed and another one said,

"Scoot over, scoot over!"

But Mommy said, "How can I scoot?"

And Katie said, "By moving a little!"

So Helen climbed on Mommy's face and Katie tried to squeeze.

There were six in the bed but Katie said,

"I was here first, I was here first!"

There were many, many elbows, and many, many knees,

And lots and lots of fussing, and lots and lots of pleas,

Until finally, the Papa said,


There were two in the bed...but not for long.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 22, 2009: pre-natal check-ups

The fact that I lived in Germany for over 17 years probably wasn't too helpful for my frustraton this morning, but the fact that I've also lived other places that are culturally VERY different from Germany did temper that some, and that I'm fascinated by languages and trying hard to learn Greek also made the morning not entirely a waste of time.

Four weeks ago I went to the hospital for a pre-natal check-up, mostly just because I wanted an ultrasound to have some idea of a due date, not being at all sure. (When I said I really didn't know how far I was, the doctor looked down again at my paperwork, listing all eight previous pregnancies, raised his eyebrows, and said something like, "By now you really ought to have some idea.") The baby's head-rump measurement spit out an age of 11 weeks (well, 9 weeks for the baby, 11 weeks as doctors count), due date June 15th, 2010. Anyway, I was there last time for 2 1/2 hours for a total of less than five minutes with the doctor, and as I was leaving, there was a near-riot going on in the waiting area, with dozens of pregnant women yelling at a man in hospital clothes. While I myself had been waiting, women had been comparing their appointment times, and there were several with 9:00, one with 9:20, and several with 9:30. That was after 10:00 when they were looking at them--and I didn't even have an appointment at all, being told one wasn't necessary. After several women who had definitely arrived after I had had elbowed their way in, five women (two English, two Cypriot, and one who spoke neither English nor Greek but agreed with the others that I should definitely be next) pushed me in the next time the door opened. Quite an experience. Anyway, I'm glad I was out of there before the riot started, but felt bad for all the others still stuck there.

In any case, I let myself be talked into going back today for another check-up, with the idea that if the baby's size four weeks later still matched that due date, I'd be reassured of the due date, as I'd been told that I'd have another ultrasound. Also, I know someone whose twins were NOT seen at 12 weeks, so it was good to confirm today that there IS only one baby! But the doctor didn't take any measurements today, just checked the heartbeat, then as he turned off the ultrasound machine said, "How many sons and daughters do you have?" I told him, and then he said, "Well, it looks like you might have--" and I quickly interrupted him and said "Don't tell me! I don't want to know!" He was rather surprised at that, and then said that he wasn't really sure, anyway, but IF I go back at all, I'll be sure to mention BEFORE they start that I don't want to know the baby's gender!

But I really, really don't want to go back. I had been given "the first appointment", at 7:30 this morning. I was indeed the first person there--the doctor and an assistant didn't arrive until 8:20. But shortly after I arrived, other pregnant women started arriving. That's where the language practice came in, because happily, the first one to arrive spoke very little English, in fact, not more than I speak Greek. So although I'd officially learned how to tell time in Greek on paper, I could never remember it, but now I can. :-) It's her first baby and she's in the ninth month, and she had an appointment for 8:00. The next woman to arrive didn't sit down with us, but went and stood right at the door to the room where they take blood pressure and weight. The one after that was another Cypriot who spoke little English, then a Muslim woman arrived, then another who didn't talk, and then a Nigerian who spoke no Greek at all, but English, and had her six-month-old son with her.

By 8:15 there were 10 of us, and then at 8:20 the assistant went into her office, and lady number 3 had pushed her way into the room before anyone else could react. However, the rest of us (those who were sitting--there are only six chairs--as well as the others standing around) quickly moved over to the door, leaving most of the chairs empty--one was still occupied by a father. When the door opened, two women tried to push in front of me but I managed to slip in. My blood pressure was taken and I was weighed (just like last time, the doctor's scale gives me four more kilos that my scale--I like my scale MUCH better!!), was scolded for not having had an amniocentesis (I'd declined four weeks ago, which the doctor hadn't had a problem with), was handed my file, and got to go wait in the hallway again to get into the doctor's office. Arrival number 4 was the third one into the assistant's office, arrival number 2 was the fourth one in, I didn't pay attention after that, as I was enjoying chatting with the English woman I had met four weeks ago.

When arrival number 3 (who had gotten in first) was finished with the doctor, at 8:50, I managed to be the next one into the doctor's office. He did his best to impress on me the importance of the 20-week ultrasound, and I told him that I already have an appointment with my doctor in Germany (who will actually TALK with me) for the end of January, had the very quick scan, was given an appointment for February (which I don't have much intention of keeping), and was out of there again at 8:53. Not quite an hour and a half, so certainly better than last time.

When I got home, I called the three phone numbers I'd been given (by a lady who now lives in the U.K., but whose homebirth story I'd found by googling "homebirth Cyprus", as she had her baby at home in Cyprus two years ago) of a doula and two midwives who are reputed to attend homebirths. I left a message with one midwife's voicemail and there weren't any answers from the other two, but the doula called me back almost immediately. She's leaving on vacation tomorrow, but we're going to talk again in February, and she sounded quite encouraging.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 16, 2009: temporary success at immigration

As an aside, I find it rather unfair to be being dive-bombed by mosquitos while I'm freezing! Cyprus has a lot of great things--mosquitos in December is not one of them.

Efficiency doesn't happen to be one, either, but we did get a temporary reprieve at Immigration today. No real progress, but the good news is that I'll be able to leave Cyprus in two weeks without being given the third degree about why I've been here longer than my three-month tourist visa allowed, and I'll be able to re-enter once, by the 15th of February. (We get back the 12th.)

This morning my husband headed for Immigration in Nikosia and took our 7-year-old, some books, and as advised, my passport and our marriage certificate and lots of time, and he also took every other single bit of paperwork we've ever had, which we always do when doing anything like this. I've always said that walking from the car to the embassy or consulate or some other official place would be the best place to mug us, because our entire identity is contained in whatever bag we're carrying.

The first person he talked to didn't think that what he was saying made any sense, but finally told him to go to "Block 7"--the complex apparently has something like 9 buildings--which is where they deal with non-European foreigners. So Jörn went there and found it was closed. He got in a side entrance and was told that really, they're closed until January, as they're in the process of moving. (The only surprising part is that this is practically the first place in Nikosia that we've been to that had not YET moved from the address we were given...) No, of course they won't give letters saying that my application is in process--who told him so? Does he have a copy of the application? Good, because as they're in the process of moving, they don't know where anything is. (See, this is why we always take EVERYTHING, not just what they say they'll need...) The friendly lady made a copy, talked with her boss, and came back and said no problem, they can issue me with a one-time, re-entry visa. Where are the stamps, please?

My husband asked what stamps, and was told that he needs "revenue stamps from the post office, worth €10.27." So then Jörn asked where the post office was, and the lady said that she had just explained it to this other applicant, in Greek, who was standing next to Jörn, so Jörn could just give her the money and she could get the stamps for both of them. Jörn politely declined handing over the money, but did walk out to the parking lot with the lady and asked her where the post office was. She said she had no idea, somewhere near the Presidential Palace, but she didn't know where that was. Jörn did know, however, so was able to tell her, and then they drove off in their separate cars.

Nothing else too exciting--Jörn found the post office (after parking at the parking lot behind the Press and Information Office, where he'd had to pay a lot of money to get the children's birth certificates translated in the summer), got the revenue stamps, returned to Immigration, paid, and got the visa in my passport.

However, I still don't have a yellow slip (the registration paper, giving me permission to live here indefinitely), and the lady seemed to think it amusing that Jörn even asked her when that might happen. She told him to come back when we get back to Cyprus in February--at their new premises in the Old General Hospital. At least I do know where the Old General Hospital is, as I had to find that in order to find the Ministry of Health, and I imagine that we can count on Immigration not moving AGAIN before we can get there, so that's good...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009: Immigration woes...

I should have posted an update before, but there unfortunately wasn't ever any exciting news. My husband went to Nikosia (as he is the European, and as men tend to receive a bit more respect here, we thought it made more sense for him to go than for me to...) on the day they said that my registration should be ready, and they went through the entire rigmarole again: "We need such and such paper." "You have such and such paper. Right there." "Oh, okay. Then we need to make another copy." Etc. I don't remember all the details anymore, but very frustrating. The only interesting part was that the head of the department heard Jörn speaking German with the children (he had two or three with him) and was intrigued: it turned out that this man had lived in Bochum for 12 years, very close to where we used to live. So they spoke German with each other and the man promised to be on the case and gave Jörn his extension number and told him to call the following week. The following week Jörn called several dozen times, eventually reached him and was told that my registration was ready, but that he didn't know where it was at the moment, so please call back in an hour. Jörn called back in an hour, dialing many, many times. (He didn't count.) Then he started making lunch and handed the phone to me, and I tried over 30 times. No answer. We kept trying in the next few days, including (at the suggestion of several other people) trying from other phone numbers, in case they had blocked our number. No success. In the meantime, I had really hoped to go to Germany for the first week of December for a conference about families on the mission field. I was going to take Helen and my friend Sue, whom Helen is crazy about, to take care of Helen. I'd hoped to leave on a Friday (the conferenced started the following Tuesday), but on Thursday, still having no news, we found flights for Monday morning (well, middle of the night, to be exact...) instead, but still didn't book. On Monday Sue let me know that if by some miracle my registration came through that day, then she was willing to fly with me Tuesday morning, even. But, it didn't, and I'm sure the conference went well, but I wasn't there. In the meantime, another friend of ours told us that he has a friend in Nikosia who is a police officer with some kind of contact to Immigration. (One of the steps they took with my paperwork in Nikosia, incidentally, was to send it to the police department there to determine that our marriage is not a sham marriage. As my husband pointed out, there must be easier ways to sneak into Cyprus illegally than to marry a German, travel around the world with him for 14 years, and have five children, but, well, you never know what people will do...) Anyway, last week, this friend, Aris, got in touch with his friend, whose name I don't know, and she started calling immigration. Wednesday she didn't get through to anyone, Thursday she didn't, Friday she didn't. She called Aris, very apologetic, and said she'd keep trying. Yesterday Aris called: his friend had gotten through, and the result is that they have lost my file completely!! Nobody has any idea whatsoever where it could be. However, since it was now a police officer asking about it, they are now (as of this morning) willing to write a letter stating that I am in the process of applying for residency, and therefore, may leave and re-enter the country, even though I've long since outstayed my three-month tourist visa. When we asked for such a letter at Immigration in Larnaka, they said that that is impossible, that they never do that, and when we asked in Nikosia, they said the same. But a police officer asked, so now I can have the letter. Which is good, as we're flying to the U.S. in 13 days. However, they won't send it--one of us, preferably Jörn, has to drive to Nikosia to get it. Nor will they make an appointment, and they can't say when exactly the man who will produce the letter will be in the office, just that he will probably be gone next week. So Jörn was told that he needs to go to Nikosia, early, and have time with him, as he may have to wait an hour or two. So despite the fact that we have friends from Germany arriving early tomorrow morning, Jörn will be going to Nikosia tomorrow, and taking a couple of books, as well as Lukas, and hopefully, will get this letter. When and if I ever get my yellow slip is still up in the air. On the one hand, as long as I can leave and re-enter Cyprus without a problem, it doesn't really matter. However, once I'm registered, we can apply for various large-family perks, such as a reduction in our electricity bill and a percentage off of groceries at certain stores. Just the father (and the children) being registered is apparently not sufficient.