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!

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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.

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 Qatari 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.

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 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 Qatari 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

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?

Conversations with Young English Learners (Part 4)

This week, I worked my first shift at the tutoring center since leaving almost a month ago. I have had kind of a sour attitude since returning to Qatar, and was not particularly excited to go back to work. On the way to the tutoring center, J and I were briefly stuck in traffic at one of the many, many roundabouts. I looked at the vehicle next to us just in time to see a kid, maybe 7 years old, hanging out of the passenger side window, presumably to get a better view of the truck full of sheep on the other side of the street. Suddenly, a fugitive sheep bolted by with a little Indian man right on its heels. It was funny for a split second, this dirty sheep making a break for it, crossing multiple lanes of traffic, little brown man in hot pursuit. The scene was straight out of a cartoon. Then, like a ton of bricks, the reality of it hit: a lone sheep desperately trying to escape the path to slaughter, the futility of its attempt, the fighting of the inevitable. I wanted to cry, could have cried, but was dropped off at work just moments later.

It didn’t take long for the students to cheer me up. I don’t think they knew I needed cheering up, but their contagious charisma had me all smiles in no time. I missed working with them more than I realized.

One local boy’s assignment involved writing about his hobbies. Initially, he wanted to write about playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. I encouraged him to pick a different hobby. After careful consideration, he decided to write about sports. Soon, we were discussing different types of sports, how silly it is for Americans to call soccer “football” when it’s played with feet, and how the Indians “stole” cricket from the Brits.

Later, the same student had to write about his favorite season. It quickly became obvious he was not familiar with the four seasons. Another local student helped name the seasons: “winter, spring, summer… I know it starts with A!”

I wanted to exclaim, “Why, it’s only autumn, the BEST SEASON EVER!” I wanted to give them pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top, tell them about Halloween and trick-or-treating and apple cider, and walk them down a street lined with bright yellow and red Maple trees. Instead, I said, “Yes, autumn! Sometimes, we also call it fall.”

He decided his favorite season was winter, because of the cold weather, snowball fights, and snowmen. I told him winter is also an excellent time to drink hot cocoa (as if it’s not good year round!), and as soon as I said “cocoa,” he burst into laughter. I’m not sure if “cocoa” sounds like a bad word in Arabic, if I had something on my face, or if maybe, just maybe, he was really that excited about a season he has never actually experienced…

The next day (yesterday), I had an eager little 2nd grader at my table. He was reading through a list of new vocab words. He got to the word “rich” and exclaimed, “I like that one!” Before our hour was over, he confidently explained to anyone who was listening, “When a boy eats a lot of junk food, he turns into a girl!” I asked if he was sure about that, and he said he was, because his sister told him so!

Since a new school year has just recently started, there are a lot of new faces at the tutoring center. As one newbie cautiously sat down at my table, I asked him where he was from. He mulled over the question for a second, then responded, “Where was I born or where am I from?” I said, “Both!” He informed me he was born in America, but from a Mediterranean country. I love expat students! He wasn’t particularly interested in his assignments, but I’d bet his multiculturalism will benefit him far more than any degree. God knows that in retrospect, I wish I’d invested a fraction of what I spent on college into world travels instead.

I ended my shift listening to a local hijabi describe how she makes her nanny buy her tickets to scary movies, and how upsetting it was when she didn’t get to go to Bath & Body Works during her last trip to Dubai (which reminds me: I’m all out of body cream!). She moaned that now she must wait until she goes to Japan to go to Bath & Body Works. The agony!

I am happy to be picking up more hours tutoring this week, and always look forward to the unexpected things these kids say!

“What do you do for fun?”

One of the most common questions I get asked when I go back to the States is what we do for fun over here.

For starters, we go out to eat pretty frequently with friends. It’s not always easy coordinating the guys’ schedules, but having a social life here is a huge key to happiness. And by happiness, I mean not getting totally depressed and bailing. I eat at restaurants more often now than I have ever before in my life. For me, sharing a meal with friends is a sort of group therapy, a source of familiarity found in the closest individuals to family on this side of the planet. Of course, every opportunity to be with friends is like this, but sitting around a table “breaking bread” especially so.

Chain

Name that chain!

This one is easy...

This one is easy…

Mom & Pop (Thai)

dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant

We like going to the local shooting complex. Maybe I should say, we have liked going there, because we’ve only been twice so far. Now that it’s getting nice out (below 100F), we hope to start going more regularly. Pistol ranges are reserved for the national teams and military forces, but expats are allowed to shoot skeet with 12 gauge shotguns. Cost per 25 shells, with “equipment” and “assistance” runs $27.

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take your pick

This is me, getting ready to miss the target!

This is me, getting ready to miss the target!

Sunset on the way home from the shooting complex

January sunset on the way home from shooting

We go to the movies. While we are lucky to be expats in a Middle Eastern country progressive enough to have public cinemas, there is still blatant censorship in the movies here. For example, the back side of a statue in Django Unchained was blurred out. In Kick-Ass 2, “Mother F*cker” became “Melon Farmer.” Suggestive scenes are simply cut out, and new releases are not released during Ramadan. All censorship aside, the caramel popcorn that’s sold at the concession stand, and the reasonably priced concession items, are always a nice treat!

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Django Unchained (uncensored version pictured)

Halle Berry in a custom made bikini cover-up

Halle Berry in a custom made bikini cover-up

Salty for J, sweet for me!

Salty for J, sweet for me!

We hit the beach! For being a desert country, there are an awful lot of beaches around here. Last January, we rented 4-wheelers for a few hours, and played in the dunes. We weren’t technically at the beach, but we were close. This should happen again soon, since the weather is decent now (and when it does, I want to ride a camel!). This week, we went to the private beach area in a friend’s subdivision, where we kayaked through the Venetian inspired waterways. Previously, we kayaked through The Country’s mangroves: an area with so much vegetation, it seemed like a different country. When it’s not too hot, we can walk to our “neighborhood’s” residential beach. Unlike some of The Country’s beaches, bikinis are allowed there.

Sea from ATV

Sea from ATV

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Private beach area

rainbow kayaks

rainbow kayaks pre-mangrove tour

Bring your resident ID to this one!

Bring your resident ID to this one!

We hang out at the Souq! It’s a shopping and dining area, designed to resemble a traditional marketplace. We prefer to go here when it’s not too hot, since sitting outside to smoke shisha, browsing the many outdoor souqs, or shops, and getting some cheap henna is much more enjoyable when not on the verge of heat exhaustion! There’s something for everyone at the souq.

A waiter takes a break next to the shisha pipes at the souq's Syrian restaurant

A waiter takes a break next to the shisha pipes at the souq’s Syrian restaurant

fabric

fabric

lanterns

lamps

souvenirs

souvenirs

falcon souq

Falcon Souq

Getting from Point A to Point B, finding out basic information (contact info, hours, cost, directions, etc.), might take twice as long (or longer) than it would back home, but there’s no denying there’s always something to do here. We manage to stay pretty busy.

What do you do for fun?

Georgian Haramadan

I have regretted a lot of things, but I have never regretted traveling.

On Sunday, August 4, the first day of American embassy closures across the Middle East and North Africa due to unspecified “information” and “conditions,” I hopped on a flight with J to Tbilisi, Georgia.

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(Partial) Emergency Message for US Citizens: August 1, 2013

I am regularly told I don’t “look” American (whatever that means), and I really do have a fairly strong faith in The Country’s ability and desire to keep the people here safe. Even so, sensationalism by the media of the newly increased “risk” and “threat” of al Qaeda had me on mental red alert since reading the August 1st emergency message I received from the US embassy here.

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Aug. 3 – CNN International Edition (On an unrelated note, notice NO MENTION of Edward Snowden)

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Aug. 3 – CNN US Edition (HOLY SNOWDEN OBSESSION, AMERICA!)

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Aug. 3 – Al Jazeera

As I made my way through The Country’s airport before the flight to Tbilisi, I kept my beautiful blue passport concealed and spoke to no one except when prompted by security.

When the magnetic forces of the duty free shop pulled me in, I immediately gravitated toward the book section.

I love bookstores. And I love books. I’m not very good at finishing books, because while reading one, a tidbit of information will pique my interest and then whoosh! I’m turning the pages of another. It’s a vicious cycle.

Leisurely flipping through the crisp pages of some airport bestsellers was a vacation in itself. There aren’t many bookstores here – definitely not any used bookstores (to my knowledge), which I love so much back home. No one, neither J nor a driver of any sort, was waiting for me to hurry up and get back to the car; rather, I was just waiting for my flight. The only thing missing was a comfy chair and a hot drink. (Barnes & Noble, I MISS YOU.)

I happily boarded the flight to Tbilisi with 3 new gems: Robert Lacey’s Inside the Kingdom (banned in Saudi Arabia), William Woodruff’s A Concise History of the Modern World, and Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (who doesn’t love light reading with inspirational quotes?!).

Unfortunately, the fact that I only put one of my new books down long enough to enjoy a savory spinach and cheese crepe mid-flight didn’t stop Overly Confident Local Man from trying to chat me up. He inquired about my travel plans to Tbilisi. I said I am visiting with my husband there. I opted to keep it vague, because really, the last thing a stranger needs to know in the wake of this alleged terrorism + closed embassy hogwash is that I’m an American and my American husband is FLYING THE AIRPLANE WE’RE ON.

He told me about the very important business he will be conducting over the next year in Tbilisi, then gave me his number on a receipt (because apparently not all very important businessmen have business cards) then made sure to let me know that number was available 24 hours (oh good, so it’s not a payphone). I abruptly buried my face back into my book and he apologized for bothering me.

While I was speed reading the left page of my book to avoid eye contact on his side of the plane, I noticed out of my periph something bright waving around. Fantastic, he was trying to show me a cell phone picture of his daughter.

“She’s so cute!” I told him with a forced smile.

Back to my book. Again, bright light waving around in periph.

“What is your mobile?” he boldly requested. (“Mobile” here means “cell phone number” and the lazy abbreviation has a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect on my nerves.)

“I can’t,” I said, shaking my head N-O. He looked confused. “I can’t, I can’t,” I repeated, finally pointing to the front of the plane.

“Your husband?!” he asked, looking a little worried.

“Yeahhhhh,” I smiled.

I had to bite my lip and think of some really awful things to stifle the laugh that was bubbling up as the failed pick-up attempt of Airplane Creeper replayed itself in my mind.

Note to Men: Don’t hit on girls on airplanes. We may be a captive audience for the duration of the flight, but that won’t make it any less awkward. This is especially true when we are married, when YOU KNOW we’re married, and when EVERYONE WORKING ON THE PLANE knows we’re married. Don’t be That Guy.

Finally, we landed in Tbilisi. I thanked my lucky stars to be out of the desert and away from the restrictions of a month-long religious holiday.

The feeling is mutual, Tbilisi!

The feeling is mutual, Tbilisi!

Upon arriving at the hotel, we quickly changed clothes. I was unnaturally excited to rip off the black leggings and cardigan I had paired with my dress. My personal style has really transformed over the last year due to living in a Muslim country. At this point, I wholeheartedly believe that too much modesty is better than not enough modesty. I think modest attire almost always appears more flattering and demands more respect. Even so, sometimes it’s nice to feel free from multiple layers of clothes. I like my skin, I’m not ashamed of my skin, and I tire of worrying about how much must be covered.

As we walked to our favorite hole in the wall restaurant/bar, I felt like a teenager that had just moved out of my parents’ house. Flaunting bare knees and bare shoulders, it didn’t really matter if I’d hit or missed looking amazing – I felt amazing.

I'm not perfect, but I'm free!

I’m not perfect, but I’m free!

Inside Cellar on Rustaveli

Inside Cellar on Rustaveli

Our Georgian dinner was as delicious as I had remembered it when I visited with J previously.

Just getting started...

Just getting started…

I kept it veg friendly with warm Georgian bread, hearty “bean in a pot,” Chvishtary (cornbread with cheese), and crispy cheese blins. Always eager to make up for missed meat, J ordered a huge rack of pork ribs (“smoked ribs menu”) and pork shashlik, the latter of which he says is his favorite thing on the menu (his exact words were, “It was pretty f***in’ awesome!”). We washed it all down with Georgian beer and wine, and slept like logs when our heads finally hit our pillows.

The next morning, we opted out of the overpriced hotel breakfast and went to a nearby cafe. The service left much to be desired, but the coffee, pastries, and outdoor seating were the perfect way to start the day.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

Waking up with coffee & an apricot pastry

Waking up with coffee & an apricot pastry

We definitely take the little things, like eating/drinking as we please, for granted. I couldn’t help thinking of David Turashvili’s movie-novel, Flight from USSR, where Soso Tsereteli’s father smuggled a pair of “genuine American jeans” into Soviet Georgia in the 1980’s. According to the author, “The banned jeans became sweeter than the forbidden fruit … In those days, every pair of jeans were believed to be American and, as the Soviet propaganda was set on destroying American values, many associated happiness with where jeans were thought to be in abundance” (Flight from USSR). I’d like to say I can’t even imagine, but I can.

After deep thoughts at breakfast, I hit an accessory sale jackpot at a nearby shop.

Tbilisi Turquoise

Tbilisi Turquoise

We took a cab to the Old Town area, admiring Narikala Fortress, St. Nicolas Church, and the swaying cable cars we rode only a few months previously, from below.

Tbilisi Old Town

Tbilisi Old Town

In the future, we’ll start a day in Tbilisi in the Old Town area. We had no idea how much was there!

Sulphur Bathhouses

Sulphur Bathhouses

Old Town mosque above sulfur spring water

Old Town mosque above sulfur spring water

We stopped for a light lunch at an Old Town restaurant called Konka Station. Taking advantage of every opportunity to sit outside, we made ourselves comfortable on their misted patio. It didn’t take long for a friendly street cat to make our acquaintance. I enjoyed a vegetable ragout that reminded me of our first meal in Istanbul, J picked through a Greek salad, and the three of us (myself, J, and Street Cat) shared Khachapuri Imeruli.

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After coffee and J’s strange chocolate milkshake concoction (chocolate milk plus an ice cube), we left Street Cat to see what else we could squeeze in during our last hour in Tbilisi.

We wound up down the street at the Georgian Orthodox Sioni Cathedral, which was originally built in the 5th Century, but destroyed and rebuilt multiple times since then.

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

We hung a right out of the church, expecting to catch a cab to return to the hotel, when I spotted one of my favorite things E-V-E-R…

A CARPET STORE!

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J’s Worst Nightmare

My Achilles' heel

Inside: my Achilles’ heel

I have a serious weakness for handwoven rugs. J, however, could not be any less interested. Especially after the week we spent in Istanbul, it is probably safe to use the word “dread” when describing J’s feelings about carpet stores. If I ever have any doubt about his feelings for me, I can just remember the oodles of kilims we (I) admired in Istanbul, and the fact that he didn’t abandon me in Turkey, and I know the guy loves me.

Rugs in Tbilisi are SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than in Istanbul. In Tbilisi, the carpet sales people do not seem to care whether you enter their shop or keep on truckin’. Istanbul is a much different story, with salesmen quick to make you feel at home with a hot cup of tea if you so much as glance in their direction.

Somehow, we managed to leave the Georgian carpet store with a small kilim without feeling completely robbed.

K is for Kilim!

K is for Kilim!

A few hours later, we were back at the Tbilisi airport. I sat next to an American couple while waiting to board the plane. How did I know they were American? Because THEY WERE TALKING LIKE TYPING IN ALL CAPS MIGHT SOUND. IT’S NOT LIKE TRAVEL ALERTS FOR AMERICANS WERE SWIRLING AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE OR ANYTHING.

US Embassy Aug. 2

US Embassy Travel Alert (Aug. 2)

“U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves while traveling” might imply to STOP BEING SO DAMN LOUD.

Anyway, the American lady (also an expat), at a very high decibel, told me all about their travel mishaps over the last few weeks, how she just wants to move home (don’t we all), and about the couple of cats she saw doin’ the deed in her friend’s garden, while I sat there wondering what about myself suggests to people I want to hear this crap. She mentioned the all too common theme among expat wives of giving up her career to come here for him. That is one fire that will never run out of fuel.

We landed back in The Country around midnight. While walking through the arrivals terminal, I noticed a white man standing out like a sore thumb in a sea of brown. He was on the other side of the glass dividing new arrivals from the waiting area, eagerly scanning the arriving passengers as they walked through. Suddenly, his face lit up as though he’d won the lottery, and I heard two little voices behind me call out, “Papa! Papa!”. A woman hurriedly pushed a cart of suitcases past me, with two young children seated on top like two cherries on top of a giant suitcase sundae. The sweet sight of their Papa scooping them up, embracing one in each arm, made me a little sick, because I know what it’s like to deeply miss loved ones.

I found a seat in the immigration area while I waited for J. A little girl across from me was repeating abracadabra! and at that moment there were so many things I wished would happen.

For now, where we are, the media is the greatest agent of terror. We’ve started locking our doors, but we won’t be giving up on the world any time soon!

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!

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!