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.
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.
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.
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…
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).
I got a kick out of these “gems”…
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).
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!
My first few months here, I happily subsisted a great deal off of falafel and hummus.
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,
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!