Oh Em Ghee, I Made Sweet Chapati!

I hear jet lag lasts one day for each hour of time difference. Kansas City is 8 hours behind us and we’ve been back in The Country for 9 days now. I am feeling pretty well adjusted today (it’s 10:30PM and I’m ready for bed!), so maybe there is some truth to the jet lag equation.

The last week, however, getting back into the swing of things (sleeping before 4:00am) has left me very bored at odd hours. As mentioned previously, I have really been wanting to learn to make sweet chapati. It is one of my favorite treats here.

Last night, I decided to try the recipe I found online. My biggest worry about making it was finding ghee. I am totally unfamiliar with ghee, but live in the perfect place to find it with ease in any grocery store.

Ghee

Ghee

My sweet chapati turned out quite scrumptious! Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a stack of little cockeyed tortillas.

Success, kind of.

Success, kind of.

For future reference, here’s how it looks when the pros do it:

Sweet chapati at its finest!

Note to self.

I hadn’t had any of the real stuff for over a month, so my mind was a little fuzzy in the Appropriate Chapati Shape Department. Still, I was feeling pretty confident about it, so decided to share some with our building staff (15 on duty during the day and 5 at night) to see what they thought of it. In theory, it was a great idea; our night staff come from Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines, so I figured maybe they could give me some tips for the next time I try making sweet chapati.

I took the elevator downstairs and found the building supervisor; a very kind, middle aged gentleman from Sri Lanka. I swear he works 12 hour shifts every day of the week, and even at the end of a long day he is always eager to be of assistance. I started out by asking him if he knew how to make chapati. Due to a language barrier, I wasn’t really able to convey, “I love sweet chapati and tried making it for the first time. Since it turned out so tasty, I thought I might share it with you and the rest of the staff! Can you tell me what you think?!”  Also, I talk fast when I’m nervous, which I get when I’m unsure of myself, which I was at that moment. Nevertheless, it was still worth the effort when his confusion turned into a big hearty laugh and warm smile when I uncovered the plate of chapati!

It might have been the worst sweet chapati he’s ever had, but I think he appreciated the gesture. Practice makes perfect, and that’s not the last of my chapati he’s seen!

This morning, I returned to work at the learning center for the first time in nearly a month. My first day back was one student’s last day. I asked the 12 year old if he was leaving forever, and he said no, just during Ramadan. He could hardly wait to play video games, sleep, and “focus on praying.” He’ll be back in August. I’m excited that he’s excited. Ramadan seems like a really fun time for Muslim kids. Ten more days until it begins!

For us non-Muslims, the last few days prior to Ramadan mean stocking up on booze, as the lone liquor store here will be closed during the Holy Month.

2013 stash

2012 stash

Additionally for us non-Muslims, Ramadan means getting a glimpse into a life that Western media will almost never show us, and experiencing a multitude of cultural activities with other fellow expats. It’s true that everyone here must abstain from eating/drinking/smoking/chewing gum/basically-putting-anything-in-their-mouth in public during the day, regardless of religious affiliation. Even so, once the sun sets, it also means fun nights that last longer, and an even wider array of delicious Arab food and drinks available. Just like stores in the U.S. “deck the halls” during the Christmas season, stores here will also go all out, with big sales and bright, festive lights and decorations galore.

Ramadan Kareem! (2012)

Ramadan Kareem! (2012)

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit excited. Let the festivities begin!

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Excuse Me, You’ve Got A Piece of Popcorn On Your Abaya

As of yesterday, I have lived in the Middle East for one year.

I HAVE LIVED IN THE MIDDLE EAST. FOR ONE! YEAR!

Compared to many of the expats I have met here, that’s nothing to write home about. Still, it’s not something I ever really thought I’d be able to say.

Last summer, as our plane was landing in The Country, we flew over a giant labor camp.

worker bee housing

worker bee housing

The “situation” of the blue collar workers here has haunted me since my first sight of that camp.

One of J’s colleagues was very gracious in allowing us to stay with him while we made arrangements for our own place and a car. I think we stayed at his compound around 2 months.

Inside the compound

Inside the compound

My first night here, our room was hotter than Hades. Outside temperatures soaring into the 100’s, poor building insulation, and weird wall mounted air conditioning units (usually one per room, bathrooms excluded) contributed to the sauna-like feel indoors. Exhausted from the 15+ hour journey, and probably very dehydrated from the curry explosion(s) experienced somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I had a meltdown in more than one way. Being the logistical genius that he is, J fixed the problem.

Portable A/C. Nailed it!

Portable A/C. Nailed it!

It’s the thought that counts.

One of my first days here, I went online to look for thank you cards to send out to our wedding guests. Somehow, I stumbled across this…

Site Blocked

Site Blocked

That’s okay. There’s no mailman here anyway! Unfortunately, I found I also could no longer access my beloved Pandora (not without a VPN anyway – we now use HotSpotShield).

Well THAT'S a bummer!

Well THAT’S a bummer!

I got a kick out of these “gems”…

Camel nuts!

Camel nuts!

For some reason, I thought they’d be bigger.

I encountered, and have since grown semi-accustomed to, non-American bathrooms: toilets that flush by the push of a button on the top of the tank (is the tank half full or half empty? you decide!), toilet paper rolls on the left of the toilet, and the infamous butt sprayer / butt hose / butt blaster (I STILL don’t know WHAT to call it).

That's just unAmerican.

That’s just unAmerican.

One thing I have not been able to grow accustomed to is light switches on the outside of the room you intend to illuminate. You need to really trust your roommates!

Beware: Cruel Pranksters!

Beware: Cruel Pranksters!

My first few months here, I happily subsisted a great deal off of falafel and hummus.

The best vegetarian mall food ever!

The best vegetarian mall food ever!

I thought I had arrived in vegetarian heaven. A year later, however, and one more bite of falafel is sure to make me gag.

Three hundred and sixty five days down, and there is still no end in sight to new experiences. As I was reminded yesterday, I still am not quite sure how to handle some of them.

Yesterday, J and I went to the theater to watch World War Z (I am the only person I have heard of who didn’t love the movie, but being anti-zombie entertainment makes me obviously biased). After loading up on caramel popcorn (a major perk to the theaters here), I made the usual pre-movie-pee-stop in the ladies’ room. The WC was packed with ladies of all ages. At the sinks, there was a girl who appeared to be around 14 years old, wearing the traditional Muslim attire of a black abaya and black hijab. Standing out against the dark blackness of her abaya, something small and white on her backside caught my eye. A piece of popcorn!

My mind immediately played a clip of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in Bounce saving a girl from the embarrassment of being spotted by her prom date with a piece of toilet paper stuck to her prom shoe. I thought I would be smooth like Gwyneth Paltrow and remove the corny culprit without the girl (or her friend) ever noticing what happened. Regrettably, as I neared the abaya-clad popcorn casualty, I thought about the consequences of her catching me. Was I even allowed to touch a woman wearing an abaya?! Her virtuous shroud exuded such an air of modesty I could not bring myself to touch it uninvited.

Rather risk becoming the Perverted Popcorn Plucker of the Middle East, I motioned to catch her attention and offered a meek,

“Excuse me, you’ve got a piece of popcorn on your…”

I pointed to the popcorn, imagining she would thank me and gracefully brush it off with a smile. Instead, she promptly whirled around and around, trying to brush it off but not really seeing where it was. Finally, she located it and flicked it to the ground, shrieking to her friend in Arabic,

somethingsomethingsomethingpopcornsomething!”

That didn’t go as planned.

I look forward to seeing how my perspective changes during my second year in the Middle East. Coming soon: a social experiment on cultural dress and treatment!