It’s Raining Stupid People

I had just begun the short walk to the nearby grocery store tonight, when a local driver in a parked SUV rolled down his window and threw out a crumpled up piece of paper. While this is an extremely common sight in these parts, creating plentiful litter-scooping jobs for imported brown men, it never ceases to leave me with smoke rolling out my ears. I muttered some choice words under my breath, just in time to witness the backseat passenger roll down his window and follow suit with a handful of napkins. My Confront-a-Jerkometer shot through the roof, and I could not stop myself from yelling,

“SIR!!”

All three men, in their white robes, in their white SUV, turned my way. Their smiles dissipated as I approached the vehicle, angrily gesturing to the trash on the ground. “Your trash is on the ground!” I scolded them, adding, “You should keep your country beautiful!”

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The driver immediately apologized, sounding surprisingly sincere. The man in the backseat jumped out, hastily collecting the litter before returning to his seat in the back. I thanked them and continued to the grocery store, mulling over how non-confrontational and apologetic the local men are here, and possible contributing factors to their careless habits.

What can be said for people who seemingly have neither bad intentions nor good intentions – rather, a general lack of intentions? How do people become so disconnected from, so unconcerned with, the world in which they live? When all a person’s wants and needs have been effortlessly fulfilled, are they left wanting for nil, uninterested in fixing what they don’t believe to be broken? Or do we just have a case of Intentional Assholes on our hands? It’s impossible to tell.

In another case of Things I Probably Shouldn’t Have Said, I made the mistake of asking an Applebee’s waitress what vegetarian dish she would recommend. Under normal conditions, I would never utter the word “vegetarian” to restaurant staff. After 4 years, I have pretty much mastered the skill of eating veg in non-veg places without drawing attention to myself. However, it was late at night, I was exhausted, and I was hoping to get in and out with a “takeaway” order as quickly as possible so as not to keep the taxi driver waiting.

Without missing a beat, the Filipina waitress scoffed at my request, giving me a once over and telling me I don’t need to lose weight. She then proceeded to explain how delicious meat tastes, and suggested a pasta dish with shrimp. I returned the menu to her and walked out, thinking of all the things I wished I would have said.

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At work recently, a 7 or 8-year-old student randomly commented that non-Muslims are going. I asked him where they’re going. He said he didn’t know, but when the world ends, they’re all going away. I laughed and told him the only place I’m going is home, and that I’ll worry about the end of the world if that day comes.

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January has been a Grumpy Cat kind of month. Welcome, February!

Blue Jays to Blue Jeans in the U.S.A.

Here comes another round of fun in the U.S.A.! Actually, this trip has been 15 hours from Doha to Chicago, 1 hour delay at O’Hare (early by O’Hare standards), then 1:30 to Kansas City. Next week will consist of flying back to Chicago, spending a few days there, then renting a car and driving 5-ish hours to spend a few days in suburban Detroit, before driving back to Chicago and flying back to Doha. Maybe “fun” is not the best word to describe travel plans with so many travel plansbut such is the price to pay to spend time with family and friends at this time. I’m so grateful to be home!

My parents had bags of peppermint Kisses and red and green M&Ms on the kitchen counter when I arrived. That was really, really awesome, because that same candy runs more than $10 a bag in Doha! Forget eating your vegetables because of starving kids in X Country; eat your holiday candy, because there are expats getting ripped off abroad!

Penelope has been sleeping with me since I got here, and although I’m not a big fan of sharing a bed with a dog, I love waking up next to her happy little face! My first morning back, jet lag woke me up bright and early. I set Penelope on the floor (small dogs stuck on big beds – it happens) and she raced downstairs to the sliding door. I opened it to let her out, blinked a few times and realized IT HAD SNOWED! Okay, so it was a light dusting, but last year I saw no snow, zero, zilch, nada, and that was a huge disappointment, having grown up where we always get at least some snow each winter. I did a celebratory dance, then headed upstairs to hang out with my Mixy girl (I miss her too) by the fireplace.

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My Mixy girl

Now, I’m watching birds fly from the leafless trees to the heated bird bath on my parent’s snow covered deck. There’s steam rolling off the top of the bird bath, and a Cardinal, a Blue Jay, and various sparrow-type birds have all stopped in for a drink. I told my dad if there was a Trip Advisor for birds, he’d have a lot of good reviews. I love Cardinals and sparrows, and Robins too, although I haven’t seen one of those yet today. I want to love Blue Jays, because they are so pretty, but I still remember the time I was a kid in our backyard and got too close to a fallen fledgling. The adult Blue Jays fearlessly dive bombed me, and I think I spent the rest of the day playing outside under the safety of an umbrella. Never trust a Blue Jay!

I’m also enjoying – yes, enjoying – doing a small load of laundry at my parents’ house. Since spending some time abroad and pulling my hair out over the inefficiency of the all-in-one “Wash & Bake” (“bake,” because does it every really DRY anything?! I think not!), I have come to realize that doing laundry in a separate washer and dryer is basically a non-chore. According to this Wikipedia article, the Wash & Bake is “gaining popularity in the United States as a practical and functional laundry solution.” Perhaps my particular Wash & Bake model is just a piece of junk, but when it takes FIVE HOURS to wash and “bake” a set of towels, I urge all my fellow Americans to stick to the good ol’ stand-alone machines. And that is what I’m doing now. Washing and drying laundry, from start to finish, in only 90 minutes!

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I won’t ever be able to wrap my mind around the whole “born again” concept, but I do feel like I am seeing everything through new eyes. I waited to do the majority of my holiday shopping until I made it home, as most things are so much cheaper here than in Doha. I popped in to Express, one of my former favorite clothes stores. $80 blue jeans, are you kidding me?! And to think I used to buy those. I still spend more than I should on more things than I should, but looking at that $80 price tag on a pair of blue jeans certainly made me realize how much my priorities have changed.

I saw this on Facebook and have to agree!

I saw this on Facebook and have to agree!

We follow all the latest celebrity gossip and the rankings of our favorite sports teams, but have no idea what’s happening on the other side of our planet. I always wonder, do we not know because of distractions, or do we revel in distractions because we don’t want to know?

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Gracie & Penelope are distracted by socks and naps.

At this moment, J is on his way to America! He plans on flying standby from Chicago to Kansas City, so it will be a miracle if he actually makes it here before it’s time to leave again. In the meantime…

These are a few of my favorite things!

These are a few of my favorite things!

24(ish) hours in Rome

I jumped into one of the white taxis waiting outside Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, laughing a little when I heard “Thriller” come on the cab radio. On the short ride to the hotel, with the taxi driver’s very bad English and my very bad Spanish, I practiced some very basic Italian:

Me: “How much.. como se dice?”

Taxi driver: “How much.. quanto costa.”

Me: “Okay, quanto costa … and, hello is ciao?”

Taxi driver: “Ciao, hello!”

Me: “Goodbye means…”

Taxi driver: “Goodbye, arrivederci”

Me: “arrivedkfjasli … Thank you?”

Taxi Driver: “Grazie”

Me: “Grazie … “

I met J at the hotel, and we immediately took the bus downtown in search of food. With sleepy eyes and growling bellies, we then walked for what felt like forever, before finding The Mirror pizzeria.

forking river on the way to forking food

forking river on the way to forking food

The Mirror Pizzeria

The Mirror Pizzeria

We squeezed in to a table in the back of the restaurant which was stuffed to the brim with loud, chatty customers, and hungrily devoured tomato bruschetta and two pizzas: diavola (spicy sauce) for me, and pepperoni for J. One bottle of smooth, Italian Chianti later, the waitress easily convinced us to split the tiramisu. The desert was extra yummy due to the fact it wasn’t lacking the coffee liqueur that’s almost always missing in the Doha version! Come prepared with small cash for a tip, as they conveniently did not have any change.

tiramisu for 2

tiramisu for 2

After dinner, we found the iconic Trevi Fountain. We had visited the fountain once before, on J’s/my/our first overnight trip to Rome. However, that first time, we neglected to throw coins into the fountain. Legend has it, throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures you will return to Rome. We had already returned to Rome, even without donating to the fountain, but still made a point to (very quickly, when the cops weren’t looking) chuck in a coin. This happened after stopping for a scoop of gelato first, of course.

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Fontana di Trevi

Since leaving Rome this second time, I discovered the coin is supposed to be thrown from your right hand, backwards over your left shoulder (no peeking!). Also, there are supposed to be 3 coins thrown: 1 to guarantee returning to Rome, 1 for a new romance, and one for marriage. I’m not sure where we stand on the Trevi Fountain coin tossing scale, but at this point it’s fair to say that myth is BUSTED!

The next morning, we woke up in time to catch the (free) hotel bus to the City Center, then took a taxi from there to Vatican City. For a variety of personal reasons, I swore up and down I would never visit the Vatican. As with every other time I’ve said “I’ll never…”, I did.

Down the street from the Vatican, we crammed in to yet another tiny, filled-to-max-capacity Italian restaurant, Wine Bar. Because J had to fly an airplane in a few hours, we didn’t get to indulge in any grape-y delight. The place was off the beaten path, and the numerous priests dining there made us feel like we had hit a local jackpot. Sharing a small table with 2 other restaurant patrons, we savored a simple caprese salad, followed by a sausage pizza for J, and spinach-ricotta cannelloni for me. Olive Garden will never be the same!

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Wine Bar

After lunch, on our way to the Vatican, we walked by a BeDazzled Smart car. What could be more worthy of five seconds of internet fame than a BeDazzled Smart car?!

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BeDazzled Smart car

Happy Travel ticket scalpers were all over Saint Peter’s Square, trying their hardest to sell tickets for tours of Saint Peter’s Basilica and some other nearby sights. I think they were charging 35 Euro per person, and maybe that’s worth it if you really want a 4-hour-long explanation of everything you’re looking at, by someone whose first language is not English. We neither had that kind of time, nor wanted to spend that kind of money. Also, admission to Saint Peter’s Basilica is FREE! The line in front is not to buy a ticket – it’s a security line that moves fairly quickly, and you have to stand in that line even if you’ve already been ripped off by Happy Travel salespeople.

Saint Peter's Basilica

Saint Peter’s Basilica

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Looking up inside Saint Peter’s Basilica

One of numerous dead Popes in Saint Peter's Basilica

One of numerous dead Popes in Saint Peter’s Basilica

Next up was a short walk to visit the Vatican Museums, home of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

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Vatican Museum – Sala Rotonda ceiling

Vatican Museum - Gallery of Maps

Vatican Museum – Gallery of Maps

FYI: NO CAMERAS ARE ALLOWED IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL, NOT EVEN WITH THE FLASH OFF! We had walked all throughout the Vatican Museums, snapping flashless photos here and there, so I was totally shocked and very embarrassed when a guard angrily informed me that no pictures are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure there was a sign somewhere, but I somehow missed it and, as a result, felt about 2″ tall for the next hour! Accidental Asshole in the house Sistine Chapel! Learn from my mistake!

By the time we finished exploring the Vatican Museums, it was dinnertime! I know it sounds like all we do is eat. We definitely don’t miss any meals. I don’t think I need to justify enjoying a meal (in Rome of all places – or anywhere else, for that matter), but this expat lifestyle is temporary, and the days really are numbered. We try to make the most of every opportunity, and eating pasta in Rome is the opportunity of a lifetime, so that is what we did.

The rustic looking, cozy feeling, dimly lit restaurant we ducked into was empty except for one other couple. It’s always interesting how much cheese is in American Italian restaurant food. Cheese, cheese, cheese – say when! Because really, who doesn’t love cheese!? Here, it was just a light dusting on top – the perfect balance, and something I will try to remember to do at home. Less cheese meant being able to taste the delicious tomato basil sauce.

tomato & basil spaghetti

tomato & basil spaghetti

We don’t usually have desert after every meal, but when in Rome…

There was cream filled cannoli with our names on it!

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dolci to the right

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dolci to the left

How we made it out of there with only one piece will remain a mystery.

We took a cab to the area near the bus stop, and were dropped off at Piazza Venezia, across from the Altare della Patria.

Complesso del Vittoriano (I think)

Complesso del Vittoriano (I think)

We popped in to the Gran Caffe Roma to get out of the “cold” (40or 50F – cold for having come from the desert!) while waiting for the bus. J got his caffeine fix with a frothy cappuccino, and I sipped on an incredibly sweet Italian hot chocolate. It was so rich, I could only drink about half of it, but it hit the spot and warmed my fingers.

I’m excited to try this easy Italian hot chocolate recipe on my parents when I go home… TOMORROW!

How to Make Italian Hot Chocolate
This recipe is by Paula Jones and can also be found by clicking this link!

What You Will Need:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate 70% or higher
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch

What To Do:

  1. Into a saucepan over LOW heat add chocolate and a smidge of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted.
  2. SLOWLY add remaining milk until it’s well combined. Add sugar. Mix to combine. Whisk in corn starch.
  3. Continue cooking over LOW heat until it becomes thick, creamy and coats the back of the wooden spoon.

Conversations with Young English Learners (Part 5)

I have tutored almost every day this last week! The shifts have been short, but rewarding. A few times, I wound up with four students at once, instead of the maximum three. The students are of varying ages and grade levels, each with their own lesson plan, so four of them at a time requires serious juggling. In the flurry of helping with reading assignments, writing assignments, and quizzes, I regretfully did not get as much one-on-one time to chat (I mean, “practice conversational skills”) with the kids as I like.

Somehow, I still managed to hear about one young student’s weekend plans to go catch crabs at the beach with his family! He described how the last time he and his family went crab hunting, they didn’t go very far out into the water. This weekend, they plan to go much deeper into the water. He stressed how important it is to not kick up the sand in the water when you’re looking for crabs, otherwise you can’t see them. He said to catch the crabs, they wear the kind of gloves that are worn for feeding eagles. He might have been thinking of falcons, since falconry is huge here, but then again, this kid is one smart cookie and I know nothing about crab hunting.

A different boy, probably around 8 years old and very soft spoken, was working on rhyming patterns. For example, in the word “dust,” the rhyming pattern is “ust.” Words that rhyme with “dust” will also have “ust”: trust, just, must, bust, rust. In this instance, I even let students make nonsense rhyming words like pust, gust, wust, zust, just as long as they “get” it. This little guy had to find a rhyme for “duck.” We identified the rhyming pattern as “uck.” I’m sure you see where this is going. I knew there was a small chance it would end explicitly, but figured with TWENTY SIX LETTERS IN THE ENGLISH ALPHABET, SURELY THE KID WOULD NOT PICK THE LETTER F TO MAKE A WORD THAT RHYMES WITH DUCK.

With his big, brown eyes looking right into mine, he innocently, and oh-so-articulately said,

“Fuck.”

I mentally cursed whoever made that stupid workbook before telling him that yes, that rhymes, but let’s think of a different one!

Another boy I worked with has a passion for sharks. When he is instructed to write sentences incorporating new vocabulary words, he writes sentences about sharks. When he is supposed to be reading, he draws sharks. I think it’s great that he is so interested in marine life and art. Good for you, kid! However, his parents would probably not be thrilled to discover the pretty pennies they are paying toward his after school English lessons are funding Shark Sketching 101. He and I made a deal: if he would stay on task with his assignments, the last 5 minutes could be spent on drawing sharks. When the hour was over, he gave me his masterpiece!

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A different hour, one bubbly student mentioned how much he loves to sing. Sadly, he thinks his choir teacher hates him. He says that when he sings, she yells at him, and when he’s not singing, she yells at him. He doesn’t like to sing at school any more.

One of my favorite local students, a young boy wearing the traditional white thobe with the white scarf (“ghutra“) on his head, struggled to read one of his assignments. A confident, witty kid with a great sense of humor, he’s actually a decent reader. This particular day, however, he was not interested in his assignments, so he wasn’t really trying. He made some comment about not wanting or needing to read, so I asked him what he planned to do when he’s 25 years old and needs to read something.

His reply: “I will pay you!”

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There’s never a dull moment with these kids!

Now, it’s Friday, and with J in India, I’ve had the whole day to myself. At the moment, the sunset (“maghrib“) call to prayer (“adhan“) is resonating from the nearby mosque.

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Men gathered at the mosque down the street – Sunset, Nov. 4

It’s good to have a day to recharge. I’ll be back to the books tomorrow!

My First Massage Ever: Bulgarian Hotel Basement Style

The day before Halloween, I caught J’s flight to Sofia, Bulgaria!

Hotel view

Hotel view

Stepping out of the airport and into Sofia’s cool autumn air was immediately invigorating. The stuffiness of the hot, dusty desert was nowhere to be found.

I should have been satisfied with the crisp, feel-good air. But no. After we checked into the hotel, I decided I wanted a massage.

I had never received a real massage before. The top two reasons for this are 1.) I don’t like being ripped off (paying to be touched feels very rip-off-esque to me), and 2.) I don’t like strangers touching me. Strangers touching me makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll talk all day with someone I’ve just met, but that someone had better stay out of my bubble.

Since J gets a discount at the hotel spa, I figured it was time to try this massage thing I hear so many people rave about. We called down to the spa and scheduled our 45 min massages. I’d be the Guinea pig and go first, then come back up to the room and get ready for dinner while J got his.

With only 15 minutes to get ready, I had no idea what to wear. I decided on black work-out capris (the ones that have seen more time on the couch than on a treadmill) and a t-shirt. I waited anxiously in the glass elevator as it descended from the sunlit top floors of the hotel to the underground darkness of Floor -2.

The elevator doors opened across from a contemporary looking, dimly lit sitting area with a counter. Nobody was at the counter, so I waited around a minute before being greeted by the only spa employee I would see that day. The dark haired, middle aged lady was dressed in what appeared to be white spandex leggings and an equally tight, white V-neck shirt. I’m not sure what kind of attire I was expecting the massage therapist to be wearing – maybe scrubs? maybe a polo shirt and slacks? maybe something a little more professional?

She handed me a big, blue bathrobe and a pair of disposable hotel slippers, pointed to a dark room and told me to go change. Through the dark room, I found a changing room/bathroom, where I changed in a hurry and wondered if it is only in America that we worry about the privacy aspect of things like etched glass doors with no locks – or maybe it’s just me?

Holding the beltless bathrobe around me, I shuffled back to the spa counter and The Woman in White led me to the massage room. It was a very small, very warm room, dimly lit, but not dim enough that I couldn’t see the Bulgarian lotto scratch-off ticket next to the massage table. Is that normal!? Are these things normal?! I tried to imagine a scenario in which a massage therapist brought a scratch-off ticket into the massage room. Did she really not have enough time to scratch it off on the way to work? Not even at the front desk? Was it somebody’s lucky day in the massage room!?

Then, The Woman in White wanted my bathrobe. I kind of thought she might turn around to allow me some privacy, but obviously this was my mistake, because she wanted the robe and she wanted it now! I hesitated, and she laughed, asking me where I’m from. I thought about saying, “I JUST CAME FROM A MUSLIM COUNTRY WHERE I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOW ANYTHING BETWEEN MY KNEES AND SHOULDERS SO CUT ME SOME SLACK IF I’M A LITTLE SLOW TO GET BUCK NAKED IN FRONT OF YOU!” but I just said, “USA.” The Lady in White laughed and said, “You look like Italian lady!” It seems there really is no place outside of the US where I will ever look American…

Before handing over the bathrobe, I tried explaining “breast implants.” Yes, I have breast implants. No, I don’t like to lie on them. Why not? Because ew gross, and I am afraid they are going to shoot out my sides, and ew gross again. Anyway, “breast implants” does not translate very well, so there was a moment of comical hand gestures and awkward laughing and I finally just gave her that stupid blue bathrobe and got on the table. She gave me a few towels to stack up and create an “airbag moat,” and the massage – the one I waited 27 years to receive – began.

The sweet scent of citrus oil was overshadowed by what sounded like a classic adult film soundtrack  playing in the background while The Lady in White smacked her gum from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. For all I knew, there was a giant bowl of Rice Krispies flying around the room, snap-crackle-and-poppin’ as loud as The Lady in White pushed hard, much like a car with a stereo playing louder the faster it goes. Porno jams and Rice Krispies eventually teamed up with a squeaky booger, so that 45 minutes later, The Lady in White informed me I never really relaxed and maybe I should just get a head massage next time.

When I got back to the hotel room, I laughingly told J about my experience, and wished him luck in his 45 minutes of Bulgarian bliss! When he returned from the spa, I asked him what he thought. He reported, “I’m glad it was cheap… she looked like Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys… I just, I dunno… I dunno if I like massages any more…”

Although I won’t likely do it again, I’m glad to have finally tried a massage, even if it was in a Bulgarian hotel basement.

What is the craziest massage experience you’ve had?

Driver Boss, Jack-o-Lanterns & Camel Chocolate

Yesterday went like this:

J got home from work (flying to Dubai – or was it Abu Dhabi? and back) around 8:00am. I had my driver (he’s not MY driver per se, but the one I always call – “Driver Boss” for the purpose of this blog) take me 30 miles north of the city for my second interview at an international school. I have been toying with the idea of working full time here instead of just part time. The interview went well, and this particular school is quite nice and seems to be very Western. Still, I am leaning toward not taking the job as the pay (about $9.40/hr) is considerably lower than I’m willing to accept for a commitment that will prevent me from the fantastic travel opportunities here!

After my interview, I had Driver Boss stop at Subway. I ran in and ordered 3 sandwiches: 1 for me, 1 for J, and 1 for Driver Boss, who had waited in the car an hour while I was at the school. While the Filipino man behind the counter prepared our sandwiches, an old local man came in and waited behind me. The Dhuhr call to prayer (around noon) came on over the restaurant speakers and could be heard from area mosques. The local man cheerfully whistled along with the whole thing, then ordered his sandwich. I have never heard anyone, let alone one of the locals, whistle along with the call to prayer! It was pretty cute.

I love hearing D Boss describe India, so a portion of the drive back we talked about his home in Kerala – the nature, the houseboats. Most of his family still live there, including his mother, wife and daughter. He doesn’t know when he will move back to Kerala, and says it’s not too bad being here because he gets to go back to his family every 3 months. His older brother, an equally kind, soft spoken gentleman, lives with him here in The Country and drives one of the fleet’s five cars. Even so, D Boss preferred Dubai, where he lived and worked for 12 years, enjoying more freedom and luxuries than there are here.

We talked about religion, one of my favorite topics with D Boss and his drivers. He told me how his mother traveled all the way from Kerala to Mecca for The Hajj, and that he hopes to do the same one day. I asked him why men and women don’t pray in the same area at a mosque, or masjid. Women pray in a separate room from men. He explained how the men line up so close to each other while praying, that their arms actually touch. He went on to say it would not be right for him and someone else’s wife to touch while praying. Regardless of my own beliefs, I understood.

D Boss dropped me off at home, and a few hours later, J woke up (okay, I might have taken a nap too, so technically we both woke up).

In preparation for Halloween, we broke out the Shuns and got to work on the Lebanese pumpkins we acquired the night before.

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I love pumpkins!

Amazingly enough, the pumpkins were the only things to get sliced (I like to keep a few bandaids under the Shun knife block just to be safe).

We both walked away from our glorious jack-o-lanterns with all fingers, toes, and everything in between 100% intact.

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Lebanese Jack-o-Lanterns + Cheesy Poof

Trying to get the Cheese monster to pose for a picture with our jack-o-lanterns reminded me of Mixy’s old pumpkin head “costume.” Mixy is my cat who is temporarily residing with my parents back in KC. Mixy wore that pumpkin head and she wore it well, although I can’t find the pictures now. Anyway, I brought Mixy’s pumpkin head “costume” all the way back to The Country from Kansas City. Here is Cheese Louise in all her pumpkin head glory:

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Lookin’ good, Cheesy!

After royally pissing off Cheese, J and I headed to a gourmet cafe for some camel chocolate.

That’s right, “the first and finest camel milk chocolate.”

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Al Nassma camel chocolate display

As a loyal vegetarian, I am a little leery of animal products. Although cheese is my downfall, I opt for organic soy or almond milk instead of cow milk when eating cereal. I really try my hardest to avoid leather products, and of course I don’t eat meat. The thought of camel milk chocolate was pretty disturbing at first. I wanted to try it, because 1. I love trying new things, 2. when else will this kind of “crazy” opportunity present itself?!, and 3. I suspect camels are treated pretty damn fabulously compared to American dairy cows. Does that mean I was up for trying the $24 camel burger on the menu? Eh, no.

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Thanks, but no thanks!

So, what was the verdict in the trial of the camel chocolate? According to J, who absolutely did not want to try the stuff, “It was good! It was better than I thought it would be.” Indeed, it was a very smooth, very creamy, very delicious milk chocolate.

Even so, I don’t think I’d eat it knowingly again, as I couldn’t get the image of a camel being milked out of my head…

…especially not after watching Mike Rowe milk a camel at San Diego’s Oasis Camel Dairy!

What do you think – would you eat camel chocolate?

Turquoise Taxi Talk

I love meeting people from all over the world, and hearing about their unique life stories. With foreign expats making up over 80% of The Country’s population, there are infinite opportunities for such exchanges to take place.

Unfortunately, small talk is not my forte. Chit chat, the skimming of the surface that occurs after every Sunday church service, is just not my thing. It’s like testing the water with just one toe; something a clumsy, Accidental Asshole like myself does not do well. I tend to stumble on my words before completely falling in headfirst. Luckily, that flaw has resulted in some of the most interesting conversations I never thought I’d have.

While J flew to Moscow and back, I met up with my favorite Swede. We shopped around yet another mall in hopes of finding winter wear for our December trips home, and stopped for coffee at Krispy Kreme. After going our separate ways, I jumped in one of the turquoise taxis waiting outside the mall.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked the driver. That question, coupled with, “Where are you from?” are my icebreakers of choice.

In no time at all, I had the taxi driver, *Aadarsh, telling me about life in The Country from his perspective. Although many of the taxi drivers here have incredibly poor English, Aadarsh’s English was pretty good. I reveled in the opportunity for a comprehensible conversation with someone experiencing a whole other side of expat life.

A native Sri Lankan, Aadarsh learned English as a child in his school near Colombo. He’s lived in The Country for about 4 months, but this isn’t his first gig in the Middle East. Before coming here, he spent 3 years living and working in Saudi Arabia. He said the traffic fines are not as bad in Saudi as they are here, but the people there are much worse. His wife and 4-year old son are back in Sri Lanka. He signed a 2-year contract with the taxi company here, and expects to return to Sri Lanka as soon as his contract is over to be with his wife and son, as their son will begin school at that time.

My own personal beliefs aside, I find religious devotion fascinating. In Sri Lanka, Aadarsh explained, people are “Buddhist (70%), Hindu, Muslim, then Christian.” He said he is Hindu, because his father is Hindu. We talked about eating meat, and agreed Buddhism would be good for me, because I’m vegetarian! He thought it was pretty funny that I don’t cook meat for J. I told him J gets all the meat he ever wanted outside our home!

I asked how it was to work for the taxi company. He described 16-hour work days, beginning at 6:00am and ending at 10:00pm. He has 2 days off each month. I asked if he knew before he started the job that he would only have 2 days off each month. He said no, adding that another company in town gives its drivers 1 day off each week, but, unfortunately, his company does not. Continually referring to his company’s “scheme,” he explained how he pays the equivalent of $82 each day to “rent” the taxi he drives, in addition to paying about $95 each week in gas. At the end of a 16-hour shift, after paying for gas and renting the taxi, he takes home about $27.

Curious about all of the claims I’ve read about worker treatment here, I asked him where his Passport is. He said the company has it. I asked about his living accommodations, which are provided by the company. He reiterated what one of my building staff members had previously told me: 8 men share one room. I asked about their kitchen. He said they don’t have a kitchen, but they are provided food at the “canteen” (cafeteria).

Finally, we reached my building. I thanked him, tipped him nicely, greeted my building’s nighttime concierge as I headed upstairs, and opened my apartment door to an enthusiastically meowing Cheese Louise McFlufferstein.

We have it so damn good.