These past few days have really cleared up and everyone is commenting on how much better it is after the rains and breezes have cleared the air. Yesterday we could see patches of blue sky nestled in between puffy grey clouds and there is no longer a smokey smell in the air.
The Embassy is buzzing with talk about when to call back the Authorized Departure (AD). Some are starting to request to come back and that is based on an individual case-by-case decision made by the Administration and Management. But from the health perspective, air quality is still poor when compared to "normal" (although much improved). People with respiratory sensitivities such as asthma, allergies, or poor pulmonary function are still quite vulnerable to breathing problems and respiratory distress. Because of the AD, our number of patients requiring urgent care was greatly reduced.
In the Health Unit, we are trying to prepare for the influx of mass arrival when the AD is lifted. Anytime newbies arrive to Post, there is always an adjustment period that causes a lot of stress: new schools, language barriers, cultural differences, and new stressors of adaptation. We can expect the need to provide a lot of support to new arrivals and their families. The unforeseeable air pollution could pose some additional health problems. The Administration understands this and are therefore reluctant to raise the AD at this time. I suspect another week or more before they do. I'll try to post pictures shortly.
Thanks for the good times, Pink House on Mann Ave., thanks Gina for letting us house/dogsit while you gallivant around France. We had strawberry fields forever.
With a closet full of Frieda Kahlo clothes.
And our choice of beaches right up Highway 1.
Along with Phil's Fish House, The Whole Enchalada, and Zachary's--because my mother loves to eat out.
We drank wine and drew pictures of wine. (Love all the Mexican glass, Gina!)
A fire makes it cozy when it's foggy in the morning.
We came out of the wilderness after camping for 4 days and I received the news of Moscow on fire. Hard to believe a city so vastly populated with people and gothic buildings could be covered in smoke. But the peat bogs to the south east burn out of control. The unprecedented temperatures have dried their tunnels and they burn unthreatened by water or flooding. The air quality has become so bad that the Embassy has called an authorized departure to all none essential personnel. But I must return and return I did.
Dina and the kids stay behind awaiting approval to return. My brother Mike drove me to the airport. As always, he cheers me up. He knows what's on my mind and he reassures me that things will be fine back home until I return some time I know not when.
I bought a cranberry muffin and a sandwich so as not to have to buy and eat that God awful food on the airplane. "United breaks guitars" is the theme song on my mind; "I've heard all your excuses and chased your wild gooses..." In mid flight, the woman next to me buys a fruit and yogurt parfait and eats it with a diet coke. I appreciate my turkey sandwich very much. A smooth flight gets me to Dulles a half hour early.
As we boarded the transatlantic flight, I was surrounded by giggly Russian teenage girls wearing Bosco athletic wear. It's the Russian olympic synchronized swimming team. My seat was on the isle next to the window. A Russian girl looked very disappointed when I sat down next to her. She was hoping my spot would remain empty so that a friend could sit with her. It turned out, the two seats in front of us were empty and she moved to that space. After about an hour in flight, she turned back to me and asked if she had left her black blind fold in her seat pocket. I looked around and at first I didn't see anything. But then I saw something black and shiny on the floor. I nodded to her that I saw it and reached down only to pull up her black bra! I could see instant embarrassment on her face. I passed it to her between the seats to make it less visible and she quickly tucked it under her blanket and turned away. Poor thing.
When we landed in Moscow, the visibility was only about a quarter of a mile. You could smell smoke as soon as you walked out of the threshold of the airplane. The temperature was mild in the low 70's. As we drove home, I could barely make out some of the landmark buildings. It seemed like a different place.
The health unit is relatively quiet. Many people left but we are anticipating a mass influx when everybody returns. We cancelled all appointments and are only taking walk-ins. The smoke still permeates your clothes and eyes get teary and mildly irritated. Air quality levels are measured daily and are 1.3 times above normal and hazard levels are drifting down. We expect that it will continue to get better and authorized departure will be lifted in about 2-3 weeks. But the fires keep on smoldering in spite of all efforts to put them out.
The Moscow Times reports that carbon monoxide levels are 30% above normal, hydrocarbons 5.4 times above the maximum permissible levels, nuclear sites completely surrounded by fires, but the nuclear materials have been removed.
You think that's bad? I have paperwork to do now! I have no idea where to begin to 1. Change our status after R&R to evacuated 2. Arrange air shipment of items sent back to Moscow. I need to schedule it now or it won't happen--they usually need a four week lead time. 3. Reschedule our Friday plane ticket for when?
This refugee business would be a lot more enjoyable if I'd been assigned a personal admin assistant.
Peter is boarding a plane for Moscow right now. Enjoy that clean, fresh economy cabin air, babe!
Should be interesting to hear what he says when his Clarks hit the ground. "Fire in the hole!" maybe? Ugh, I really can't stand it that he has to go back there. He assures me that if it gets bad, everyone from the Ambassador on down, including my darling, will be sent home. "Remember Chad?" says Peter, reminding me of when the country to the east of Niger was on authorized departure. The FSHP (Peter's position) and the Ambassador worked out of the airport the last day, using cardboard boxes as desks, but even they were finally evacuated.
I've been running in Gina's neighborhood and I adore the house with murals painted on the fence all the way around. Yesterday, I was heartbroken--they'd been whitewashed over!
Embassy Moscow has officially put us on Authorized Departure status, so we have been evacuated. We were already having R&R at our evacuation point so that made that part easy. We aren't allowed to go back now for 30 days, at which point the US State Department will decide if the hazardous levels of air pollution and threat of fires hitting nuclear centers are at acceptable levels for American families and non-essential personnel to return.
Peter, however, is essential personal, he's one of the people they want there deciding on the health risks of being there. He will be going back as soon as he gets things situated. I don't mind an extra couple weeks in the States beyond our R&R, the start date at the American school has been postponed and I'm glad we don't have to head back before school opens. But I don't like it AT ALL that Peter has to go back to the fires and bad air and who the heck even knows WHAT'S going on in that country?
A friend called Aeroflot to look into having her flight back to Moscow changed and the person on the phone said, "Problem in Moscow? There is no problem in Moscow." The Russians don't really do murals, but there's no shortage of whitewash.
Photo from themoscowtimes.com
An article in Rianovsky, an English language Russian newspaper, reports that 700 people a day are dying in Moscow and ambulances are working under war-time conditions. Russian hospitals are filled to capacity, with no AC. The head of the Russian weather service, judging by historical records, calls the eight weeks of 100 degree plus days the hottest weather in 1000 years. The heat is triggering peat bogs around the city to spontaneously combust, filling the air with poisonous smoke. Firefighting crews are overwhelmed--52 firefighters have died--and the military has been called in to battle fires near nuclear sites.
Our friend Aleen, whose next post is China, is the first person ever who can't wait to get to her next post so she can breathe the cool, clean refreshing air of...Beijing.
The forest fires and sustained high heat are causing carbon monoxide levels in the city to be seven times the safe levels. My last official note from the Embassy informed us that "Authorized Departure" status --State-ese for evacuation--was not being considered, and that if you haven't stopped smoking, now is a good time to quit.
We are lucky, our renters moved out of our place in Portland, so we happen to have an empty house (wanna buy it?) and if we can figure out how to get a couple beds in and some pots and pans and dishes, and oh yeah, the internet, we'd be fine waiting for the noxious smoke to clear.
I think as soon as it cools off in Moscow, which has to be around the corner--remember last year in September Stefan needed his coat?--things will improve. I wish they'd call the departure, I'm dreading the damage to my kids' lungs--they didn't ask for travel-bug parents. My heart goes out to friends and family who don't have options, co-workers who have been sticking it out, and the people of Moscow, where Aleen says a 10-minute walk to the grocery store is out of the question.