Camaraderie in Chaos

I have no excuse as to why this post has taken me two weeks to complete. It could be the 10+ hour days we’ve been putting in to online learning plus the time we’re spending cleaning our own house (I know… shock, horror!). But I think the real reason it has taken me nearly 2 weeks to blog an update about how we are surviving through the #CoronaChaos is because… well… we’re socializing A LOT more!

Like any normal family, the regularity of the work/school week includes so much routine that, by the time Friday and Saturday roll around, we really just want to chill on the couch munching on delivery pizza while watching some stupid Netflix movie that the kids will end up texting their friends through anyway. And in the blink of an eye, it’s Sunday again. We’re busy grocery shopping, prepping meals, setting up our schedule for the next week of craziness, and vowing to go to bed early.


But with the chaos that is (read this part in an ominous voice) the Corona virus… things are a bit different. Yes, we still get up early, walk the dog, have breakfast, and get to “school”. But, we can do it all in our pjs. Of course we are at home and glued to our computers (for longer periods of time than is healthy for any human being), but then, when we tuck the computers away we don’t have to stress about having to get ready for school tomorrow.

Since the Chinese New Year holiday began, most of us in the region have been glued to our cell phones WeChatting the night away. We’ve been sharing info (both good and bad), seeking advice, cheering each other up, and supporting each other’s decisions. But as our “stayers” group continues to dwindle, we’ve busied ourselves in an effort to beat the boredom. There have been brunches and parties, game nights and walks, dinners and pub visits with people who were once acquaintances but who are quickly becoming our friends: the ones we’ve laughed with, been worried with, joked with, and calmed.

The “stayers” have become a tight knit group of people who know the ridiculousness of having had their temperature checked at the entrance of the mall and 100 meters later at Starbucks before being given the honor of ordering a coffee… to go. (This is particularly insane as my temperature was 24C/75F at the grocery store this morning and 36.5C/97.7F 10 minutes later when I entered my village gate. I’m not sure this whole temperature thing is all it’s cracked up to be).

… but I digress.

The “stayers” are the ones who share important intel about which restaurants are open, who is still delivering food, and where new clean masks can be sourced. The “stayers” are becoming the family you need when you’re wondering, in secret and aloud, “Did we make the right choice?” The “stayers” are now the ones I will always remember when, decades from now, I’m thinking about the historic moments in my life, like where I was when the Challenger exploded, or 9/11, or when Corona struck.

This camaraderie that has been formed amongst our colleagues, our neighbors, and the waitress at our local pub is an unmistakable feeling of unity, togetherness, and calm.

I guess I haven’t written in such a long time not because I’m busy working… but because I’m busy living. I’m busy finding ways to fill my tank with joy.

…and so far, it’s working.

when did I know?

Many have asked me when I knew I wanted to become a teacher. Was I always born with the passion to teach? No (but my mom would probably disagree as she recounts a story about me standing in front of the neighborhood children who were all huddled on the grass while I nattered on about… something. Everything!) Did I have an inspirational teacher who made me want to follow this vocation? Yes. I had many teachers who inspired me to think, ask questions, and challenge myself. But they didn’t really persuade me to become a teacher.

My first real teaching experience took place at ISK in Nairobi, Kenya. Though I was affiliated with the school as a volunteer, it was not until I had my first hands-on day with kids, papier mâché, and a lot of fun, that I even fathomed teaching as a career.

All through my credential work, earning my Master’s degree, and 10 years of teaching I liked my job. I was passionate about what I did. I knew I did it well… on most days. And I was proud of the work that I did. But I still didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher.

It wasn’t until just last week (Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 8:00 am to be exact) in my new adopted country of Oman, that I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

I had dropped Rob and the kids off at school for a 7:30 am start time. Then I got back in the car and drove. Away. Did I drive to another classroom at another school? Nope. I didn’t go to a curriculum planning meeting or a school supply store. I went… to a coffee shop! I didn’t know what to do with myself so I ordered a cappuccino and tried to read a book.

About 20 minutes after reading the first paragraph… again… and again, I realized I wanted to be a teacher.

Driving away from school (in a year when there was no ES teaching job available) was one of my lowest moments. How could I share my talents if there were no students to teach? Who would need me (besides my family before and after school)? How was I going to affect change in the community or world? What was going to happen to my PLN of educator contacts and collaborative colleagues? Who was I going to be?

All of these feelings, questions, worries, and value judgements of myself, my career, and my professional reputation weighed on me. And then the tears came. I began to grieve. The feeling was similar grief I had experienced before. It was the grief of death. Of lost love. You know… the type of sorrow that makes your chest ache . That was the feeling I had when I walked away from school, got in my car, and drove away. Complete and total loss.

During that cappuccino I felt useless. Unnecessary. Wasted. And those feelings are terrible on a normal day. But the feelings seemed even more desperate because I had just realized what I wanted to be when I grew up!

So now what? What’s the next step? What the hell am I going to do to wipe these sorrowful feelings from my heart? I don’t know, but I guess I’m gonna have to try something new.

I’m going to make friends, volunteer, write Genius Hour curriculum, try to sell myself, and then… secretly hope a lot of teachers get pregnant so I can get back in the classroom where I belong. Because now. Only now, do I know that I want to be a teacher!

Some of my favorite teaching moments and people who have made me better at what I do:



africa 2.0 ends

After 7 years of living on the beautiful African continent our 2nd stint (a.k.a: Africa 2.0) came to an end in June. As a way of reflecting on the past 3 years of life in South Africa, Rob and I sat on the couch in my classroom (on the last day of school in June) and wrote down the top 10 things we WILL and WON’T miss about SA (the pictures are just some of our favorites from this beautiful place we called “home.”)
In no particular order, here are the reasons you should visit South Africa:

1. Great friends. The people are beautiful and they’ll get in your heart… forever.
2. Weather. Hot or cold, there is always a blue sky.
3. Travel and safari. There is so much to see in this vast country. And it’s ALL accessible.
4. Cheap. The rand isn’t doing so hot right now, so it’s incredibly cheap for expats. Your money goes A LONG way here!
5. Alcohol. It’s good. It’s cheap. It’s delicious. Why wouldn’t you have bubbles on a Tuesday night?
6. Dog friendly. People love our crazy medicated dog just as much as we do.
7. Our house and pool. If you visited us… you know what I’m talking about!
8. AISJ. The campus is stunning. The grounds are colorful. And the facilities are top-notch!
9. Convenience. If you can avoid going to a government office, then it’s one of the easiest places we’ve lived.
10. Life is easy. Everything is easy to come by—great doctors; fabulous food; flat roads; and a language we ALL know!

This list was MUCH harder to come by…

The things we WON’T miss about South Africa:
1. Traffic. Taxis. Crap drivers!
2. Load-shedding.
3. Being SO far away from our family and friends! It is a LONG way to get out Africa when you are living in the south.
4. Broken robots (aka traffic lights…which lead back to issue #1)
5. Tipping to park… everywhere!
6. Early, EARLY mornings.
7. Purposeless PGCT.
8. “Now, now” and “Just now.” After 3 years, we still don’t understand the difference.
9. Living far away from the kids’ friends. We were isolated from the student community a bit and that was a challenge.
10. Chaos of our lives. Big city = Busy lives!

a book for christina

We had a great summer holiday in the USA and I was going to hit the ground running in Belgium and start blogging about our trip to California. But when we walked in to the Bomma and Bompa’s house, my phone *dinged* with a message about the passing of my friend, former  colleague, and Xavier’s 3rd grade teacher, Christina Hutterer.

Between cleaning up the kids vomit (they caught Roman and Katya’s tummy bug and it reared it’s ugly head at 37,000 feet) and drugging away their headaches and fever, I tried to console my grief. I added every one of my Indonesian friends to a big group list where I asked people to share their favorite memories of her. This “work” began to quench the despair I was feeling.

When I woke up on Day 2 in Belgium, I thought… I have to do something with these beautiful memories. I have got to share this with her parents. So I grabbed my Mac and consolidated the messages and photos in to a book.

What you see below is a slideshow video of that book. Before I print the book for her family, please look through the pages (I had to embed it as a video, so you might have to pause to read your comments). I had to make some changes for spelling and space but I think that your thoughts have been captured appropriately. If not, please contact me.

one direction

…by Anouk

I got to celebrate my birthday early this year. My dad worked hard to get tickets to the 1D concert here in Johannesburg. He got four tickets. Since he and Xavier didn’t want to go, I got to pick 2 friends to go with me and celebrate my birthday.

It was an outstanding concert!!

We started out by getting on the “party” bus and playing “Heads Up” on my mom’s phone. We were SUPER goofy because we were so excited about our first concert. Though we had seen a video about 1D and how girls cry at the concert, I didn’t think girls would already be doing it. But they were! On the bus. There were women crying before we even got to the stadium.

Once there, my vegetarian friends and I had no trouble dashing past the braai (South African word for BBQ) and hamburgers. The line to get inside was very, very, very long, but it felt quick because Cliana, Chloe, and I danced, sang, and goofed off ’til we got to security.

The first person who sang was named Johnny Apple (He won “South Africa’s Got Talent” in 2013). He was pretty good. But when he was over all we wanted was One Direction.
But they were late. So the crowd sang and danced to “The Macarena,” did “the wave,” and clapped in unison hoping they would come on stage. When they did–it was worth it! We danced and sang and screamed until our voices wore out. The people on the ground threw hats, posters, teddy bears, and even a bra on stage! Harry Styles threw water at the audience and I think the girls probably fainted. (Just in case you don’t know their names, they are Liam, Niall, Harry, and Louis. If you know the band well enough, you’d notice I missed one. That’s because Zayn left the band.

I’m SO excited that excited my dad got tickets. Me and my buddies where giggling for hours. It was  a very fun night and the firework display was really good, like a 3 D movie! My first concert was worth tiredness on sundae.

Here are the photos of her adventure!


the karoo and the beach

“Tricia is coming! Tricia is coming!” Those were the words echoing through the house the week before Spring Break started for us. Not only was Tricia coming, but my friend and colleague, Bronny, had arranged for a trip out of the city–hoorah! With a night arrival, Tricia got here just in time to repack so we could head out to the airport to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

Having read about the Owl House in a travel magazine, Bronny convinced me that this was a not-to-be-missed location, but with 5 of us, there wasn’t space in the small town (read: village) of Nieu Bethesda for us to stay. So after a three hour drive inland past views that made us question whether or not we were in Arizona, we weary travellers arrived at Ganora Guest Farm.

This gorgeous sheep farm lies on the bottom of the Sneeuberg foothills where the owners have lived and sheered for the last 15 years. On the site, Hester has educated her children and sold real estate in Nieu Bethesda while her husband Jan ran the farm and fulfilled his paleontologist cravings by walking the riverbeds of his property. Jan took us on a tour of his small museum where the kids held skulls that pre-date dinosaurs by 50 million years. The skeletons of this area belong to a mammal-like creature called the Gorgonopsia. When we weren’t oogling at the 7,000+ year old bushmen cave paintings or playing with the resident water mongoose, we were dining on amazing farm-to-table delights or lying on the grass and gazing at the constellations.

From Ganora Guest Farm, it was a quick jaunt to the “town” of Nieu Bethesda where we explored the Owl House, the home and art garden of the mentally afflicted, Helen Martins. Though she only lived until 1976, the amazing concrete, metal, and recycled glass creations in the garden were so cutting-edge and ahead of their time. Walking amongst the art gives one a sense of hope and excitement, while the inside of her house felt eerily hopeless despite the colorful crushed glass walls and painted glass.

The village of Nieu Bethesda was incredibly charming and abounding with artists known around South Africa and beyond. After shopping at Annette’s The Cow Jumped Over the Moon shop, we heard that The Brewery and Two Goats Deli was owned and operated by her brother. So we headed over there enjoyed delicious hand-crafted brews with homemade beer breads and goat’s cheese. The kids loved The Brewery because the seats were made out of old tires and the hammock was a double-wide bed hanging from the trees which entertained them for hours. From the archaeologist dig at the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre to the pottery creations of  Charmaine Haines–Nieu Bethesda was a total African experience!

After our time in the Karoo, we drove another couple of hours to Port Alfred, a small town in the Eastern Cape. This being the regular vacation destination of my South African colleague, Jackie, we were sent with a list of a dozen places to go, people to see, and locations to dine at. The town is steeped in British colonialism with a contemporary mix of Xhosa artists. The area is home to the oldest pub in South Africa (the Pig and Whistle) and a dozen beautiful craft and artisan shops. The oddest peculiarity of the region is the Big Pineapple of Bathurst. The Big Pineapple honors the first crop that was successfully grown in the region–the pineapple. It was also home to the International Pineapple Symposium in 2005–who knew such a thing existed?!?!

The highlight of the kids’ journey was the downtime spent at the coast in Hangklip-Kleinmond. From our stay at the Purfikt House, the kids were able to play in the cold ocean waters, explore the beach’s tidepools, (attempt) to sand board down the dunes, and dip their feet in the (slightly warmer) East and West River that lie parallel to one another just a stone’s through from the house.

All in all, we had a great excursion and we look forward to continuing our exploration of the outskirts of South Africa!

travelling tales

After 18 months of living in South Africa we hadn’t travelled around much. Though we’ve explored the city’s great restaurants, bars, and shops, we’d never explored the highlights outside of the city–safari, wineries, coastal regions, etc.

So… when Bomma said she was coming to visit us, we decided to get the heck out of town and explore the gorgeous Cape.
As school got out for the holiday, we raced to drop the dog off at the kennel, and zoomed to the airport. Arriving at 5 Camp Street late at night didn’t give us a true picture of all the beauty that lay beyond. In the shadows of Table Mountain, we enjoyed Cape Town, a city quite reminiscent of San Francisco. Small winding streets weave in to one another as we explored the glorious ocean, tourist highlights, delicious restaurants, and amazing wine (my favorite being No. 8). We enjoyed it all! From the penguins at Boulder Beach to the Cape of Good Hope, from the brightly colored houses of the Muslim Quarter to the ocean views at the V&A Waterfront–it was all amazing! We’ve got a list of “must-sees” for next time (to the top of Table Mountain, swimming with sharks, and whale watching).

In December, our dear friends, the Carpenters, came to South Africa to visit us. We had a great time catching up over delicious meals (they live in Moscow and can sometimes struggle to have exciting cuisine) and fabulous wine! The highlight of our time together was our trip to Djuma Private Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. A 6-hour drive from Johannesburg, Djuma is an oasis with its own watering hole. Vastly different than Kenyan safaris, Djuma’s landscape is hot and thick. Spotting wildlife can be tricky, but we didn’t seem to have too many challenges.  We saw 3 of the big 5 in one beautiful photo (elephant, buffalo, and rhino) and came upon a pride of lions at night on our first game drive.

On our first morning game drive, we spent time following a female leopard in hopes that she would lead us to her baby (nobody had yet seen the baby she was pregnant with just weeks before). Though we didn’t meet her baby, we got pretty up close and personal with her (see the video below).

Though the lions, zebra, elephants, and dung beetles were all amazing in their own right, our collective highlight had to be the 100+ vultures eating a dead buffalo. Having never seen the way vultures interact with one another made this experience so truly brilliant. But animals aside, our time celebrating Christmas with the Carpenters made us feel not so alone. It may not have been a “white” Christmas–but it was pretty damn amazing!

my little dog (by Xavier)

by Xavier

My dog is the greatest gift I have ever received.

Here I am, on the couch upstairs, writing this blog with my Samsung slate in my lap, my dog staring up at me and my video games calling my name. My dog has moved up to the couch, laying next to me, staring at the wall. I wonder what she thinks about, day after day, week after week, month after month. She is very lazy.

I wonder what it feels like to be a dog. Is it good, or bad? Sure, she doesn’t have to go to school, and she get’s to slouch around the house. She doesn’t have to hunt for food, she doesn’t have to do chores, and she gets to sleep whenever. Wherever! But, she is skittish. She seems to worry about people coming into the house and this is because she was abused when she was just a pup. We got her when she was just 5 weeks old. So we saved her from a bad life.

Having a dog can be bittersweet.

It was Halloween, 2014. I came home on the school bus. But when I walked into the house, my dog wasn’t there to greet me. I searched the house and garden. I ran outside and even looked around the whole complex, but I couldn’t find her. When I called my parents, I was bursting with tears. Scared out of my mind. Worried for my dog. My parents got home and we started searching in the car. We drove around our housing complex and neighborhood. The next day, a Saturday, we printed out many lost dog signs. We passed them out to the guards, hammered them on to trees, in front of  housing complexes, hospitals, and we also alerted all the pounds.

Everyday, our family felt more hopeless of finding her. Though we secretly hoped she’d be on the couch when we walked in, she never was. We were sad. Lonely. Lost without her. Our family wasn’t whole with her gone.

Four days later, in the middle of class, my dad came in and pulled me out. He said a man selling bananas near a hospital had seen our dog. My mom had rushed there to get her. She called my dad and said she was coming back to school. When she drove up at 11:24 on a school day, we saw our dog, poking her small, little black head out of the car. We all started to cry again. But this time, tears of joy.

Getting her as a puppy was a good gift. Getting her back was the greatest gift!



Anouk’s 9th

Anouk celebrated her 9th birthday in SPA style. After deciding on a theme for her party, Anouk and Mama got busy creating eye mask invitations and a relaxing spa setting for the celebration. The first step was: the relaxation zone which was full of pillows, blankets, and all the pre-tween magazines we could get our hands on.
Once that was all done, we organized a beauty zone so Mama and her two teacher buddies could make up each “client.” Girls received two beauty treatments. They had an option of a dozen nail colors from which to get their manicure done. This was followed by a “facial” with eye make-up and lip glosses galore.
While girls waited for their spa treatments, they were asked to cut small spa-themed icons and glue them on to a blank BINGO board. Once all the boards were created, the girls played RELAX (as opposed to BINGO).

Mama’s favorite event was hot nail polish. In this game, all the girls sat on a blanket in the garden, each with their own nail polish color in hand. While the music played, they were asked to pass the nail polish to the next person. When the music stopped, they were stuck with the color in their hand and had to paint one of their toes. The game continued in this manner until all 10 toes were pained a variety of colors. It’s hilarious how unskilled these girls are at painting their own toenails.

Once everyone’s nails dried, it was time to participate in Papa’s annual Birthday Scavenger Hunt. This year’s scavenger hunt took the girls upstairs, downstairs, outside, in the car, and ultimately, to the Master bedroom, where they found a basket full of terrific spa tools: nail polish, wash clothes, lip gloss, nail files, mints, nail stickers, and hair ties.

The party wrapped up with a heartwarming rendition of Happy Birthday that was sung with incredible enthusiasm! The girls devoured chocolate cupcakes or fruit and custard cake (though most girls tried BOTH!)

To see more pictures of this Spaaaaaaahhhh day, go to our Flickr page.


another one bites the dust

da4be-dsc_0252Well loved ones, another summer bites the dust! And what a summer it was. During our adventures, we travelled another 15,800 mi./25,400 km. (with another 5,700 mi./9,200 km. to go), met two new babies, hugged and kissed our loved ones hundreds of times, and laughed, and laughed… and laughed!

Our fun started in California with another whirlwind trip. The time was made spectacular by meeting the newest addition to the Fagundes clan–Roman. He is such a happy (and huge!) baby. Another perk was seeing my grandma, Nama, doing so well and living at home again! The Fagundes household was bursting at the seams with no room left at the inn, but the high volume of guests made for great chats in the garden with loved ones from all over the globe.

Towards the end of our time in the states, we were able to squeeze in an important familial event–Roman’s baptism. The group of honored attendees made the event so intimate and beautiful despite the fact that Roman did not want to be dressed up and the center of attention!

The next stop was Belgium.1c007-image_25

Thanks to my dad and his Delta benefits, the four exhausted Langlands’ slept in Business Elite during most of the JFK-BRU flight (a privilege most 8 and 9 year olds don’t get regularly!) When we arrived in Belgium, we hit the ground running with shopping sprees for clothes, shoes, and beer! After 5 years in Muslim countries, Rob has continued to explore his homeland for the newest and finest beers they have to offer. In just 2 years he has tasted and ranked over 80+ beers. He is eager to have some of our international friends visit in the summer so he has an excuse to try even more beers.

Our wedding anniversary was documented in Belgium this year with a national fete. The country, celebrating its regular independence day, also relished in the crowning of their new king (the former having stepped down to bestow the honor upon one of his sons). Another great event was meeting the newest addition to the Belgian family by hugging “the brut”, Vince.

Of course our summer could not be complete without some sort of hitch in our plans. This years’ chaos led Anouk to the hospital with pneumonia and bronchitis (which she loves saying the Belgian way–bronshit!) After two nights in the hospital (where breakfast and dinner included Nutella sandwiches) Anouk was sent home with a stint so she could return for daily IVs. She is doing well and this experience has left her with a positive hospital experience– thank goodness!


00cb1-image_13The most important package delivered to the house this summer included our South African visas. Though Rob will be the only one entering the country with a visa, the timing allowed for our shipment to depart Indonesia with our dog, hopefully, following soon.

We depart for Africa 2.0 tomorrow. We have heard that our brand new house is stunning and even has it’s own pool. We are eager to meet our new colleagues, make new friends, and see what life in South Africa has to offer.

Until then, it’s been another great summer… one that we are grateful for!

To see some photos of our great summer, keep scrolling down and check out our Flickr feed.