We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The thing about learning a language . . .

Is that it’s not quite as simple as just learning a new set of words. One might think that given an Arabic/English dictionary and enough time, one could learn to communicate. Wrong. What we’ve discovered is that they just don’t always use the same words for the same ideas. Here are a few examples we’ve gleaned from our brief seven months’ study.

To say our house is near the store, they use the words “near from.” So our place is near from the store. Our phrase “one day” becomes “a day out of all the days.” To say “I got the hiccups” or “I got an idea” we have to say “the hiccups (or an idea) came to me.” That one really makes sense, since I’m not doing anything to attain the hiccups—they just show up.

Some of them are more fun. If you sit Indian-style (with your legs “squared”) and your foot goes to sleep, they have a verb that means you have ants in your leg! The handle on a coffee cup is an “ear” but the handle for most anything else (car door, bucket, walking stick, etc.) is just called a “hand.” If you want someone to go away, tell them to “walk.” (Lee Anna uses this one on her Daddy from time to time!)

In America, if we’ve been apart for a time, I might say “I missed you.” My Arabic-speaking friends, however, would use their verb that says “you made me sad by being gone” (all one word). We’ve found several other concepts that take a phrase to communicate in English but just one word in Arabic: “do something about something,” “do something to get well,” “to be raised up,” “messed up my schedule,” and “story about how you met.”

On the other hand, we Americans use lots of phrases that don’t mean exactly what they say. In a story today, I tried to tell our teacher that a man “drove me to the store.” She corrected me to say “he drove the car to the store and I rode with him.” He didn’t really drive me, now did he?

I guess we’ve still got a lot to learn.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

It Was Bound to Happen

Despite the fact that we live thousands of miles away, Lee Anna has recently moved one step closer to becoming a true American preschooler. She has fallen in love with Barney, America's favorite purple dinosaur. No, he's not on the air here, but thanks to the magic of Tivo, Mimi has supplied us with numerous episodes for her viewing pleasure. This morning was the first time she asked specifically to watch Barney. At first I thought she was asking for the "potty," since she doesn't bother to pronounce the "n" or the "t" in the middle of either word. When she realized I was confused, she said "TV" and pointed to help me out. As we listened to them sing, "I love you, You love me . . . " Jason commented that he's never known anyone who actually loved Barney--just lots of people who loved to hate him. I have a feeling we'll be getting to know Barney better than we ever imagined over the next few years. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fun Times

Sorry we haven't posted in a while. We've been busy entertaining G.G. (Grandma Gloria) the last 10 days. We had a great time showing her around our new home. She was relieved to find that we're not living in a tent out on the edge of the desert. Here she is enjoying some of our favorite local foods . . .
. . . and taking in some of the sights (some more picturesque than others).

And here's the real reason she came to visit! As much as she loved the food, the people, and the sight-seeing, the highlight of her trip was meeting her new grandson, Sawyer. She also had a blast trying to keep up with Lee Anna all week.

Brave woman that she is, she even volunteered to keep both kids overnight and sent us to a pretty hotel on the river to celebrate our anniversary. It was quite a treat!
We love you, G.G.! Come back soon.

Adventures with Mohammed, part IV

If a picture paints a thousand words, I’m going to need 100,000 words to paint all the pictures from the party we attended last Friday night (unfortunately, we forgot our camera). I’ll try to summarize a little and paint a picture or two. The blue paragraph is the Cliff’s Notes version for you Americans with busy schedules. After that, those of you reading at work can read more detail than you’ll ever need.

Wedding party at Mohammed’s dad’s house. His sister’s engagement party, really. Boy met us on the street. Got there early. Drank cokes. Went inside first, then upstairs. Came down for the street musicians. Back outside for the party. .Kids dance. Boy on chair. Car comes through. Lumber truck. 9:15 bride arrives. She goes inside. 9:45 men go drink coffee, girls go inside. 10-ish groom arrives. People watch from balconies. Clothes hanging outside. Dripping on Beth. Dancing in a small circle. Stereo way too loud. CD player=old computer. Old women dancing. Women around the bride, men in the background smoking and drinking coke.

Sometime last week, Mohammed invited us to a party for his sister's engagement. He told me to be there at 7, so we got there around 7:45. I called him from the taxi for directions, and he told our driver to look for a boy in a red shirt on the crowded street where we were riding. So we stopped by the first boy in a red shirt, and he had no idea who we were. The next red-shirt clad young man got in and directed us down one little alley after another until we came to the place with colored lights hanging between the buildings and chairs stacked up along the walls. The party is to take place in the alley between two rows of apartment buildings—all about 5 stories high. The alley is almost 20 feet wide. Almost. What the alley lacked in width, it made up for in length. We could see forever in one direction, and there was another similar party going on a half-mile away.

He said 7:00, but there were just a handful of people there as the time approached 8:00. We went into his dad’s apartment and had a Coke in the “formal” living area. After the requisite stop there, we were ushered upstairs to another family flat and into the informal TV room/living room/bedroom. It’s about 8:30--still no big party going on. We heard a loud reed instrument and drum being played outside, so Mohammed invited us to go have a look at the street musicians passing by. They played really loudly right in our faces, and then demanded tips. I had no small bills, so Mohammed had to yell at him to let go of my shirt sleeve!

After those musicians left, they cranked up the stereo. Picture an old 1970s receiver with a 1991 computer with a CD drive playing the music. No, not using i-tunes or anything, just a headphone jack out of the old CD drive. Anytime someone bumped the table with the stereo on it (which happened frequently because it was right next to the doorway), the music would pause for a few seconds. The local philosophy for stereo volume control was summed up well by an American friend of mine here: Simply turn up the stereo as loud as the speakers can handle it, then turn it up a few more notches so it distorts really badly, then leave it there for the remainder of the day.

The kids started dancing first. Just the boys, really. So now we’re sitting in chairs near the door, being introduced to all of Mohammed’s aunts and uncles. The boys—mostly 8-12-year-olds—kind of made a circle and egged each other on while the music blared. One little guy climbed up in a chair and danced a little, then his friends picked up the chair and let him dance a little higher. He was fine for a minute or two, but more boys came and hoisted the chair even higher. Then some bigger boys joined in and had the kid 5 or 6 feet off the ground. Now he’s through dancing and is into survival mode, holding onto the back of the chair while an older uncle comes to rescue him. Did I mention that the boy was dancing with his shirt off? While all that was going on, we were still sitting by the door, being introduced to every new person who arrived at the party. Beth had to move her chair a few inches to get out of the drip from the laundry hanging in the alley outside the second floor apartment. Several of the residents immediately above the party had their freshly cleaned clothes hanging out to dry over the festivities.

By 9:15, there were probably 50 relatives (and two conspicuous Americans) gathered in the alley, and the guests were still coming. That’s when the bride-to-be showed up. She had just come from having her hair and make-up done and she was all sparkly. She made a few greetings to the guests and then promptly went inside. Beth asked a friend where she was going and found out she was hunting a mirror so she could see how pretty she was.

Here’s how the conversation went:
Beth: Where did she go?
Shymat: Upstairs.
Beth: What does she do up there?
Shymat: Look in the mirror.
Beth: That’s all?
Shymat: That’s all.

This was somewhat understandable to us, since this is probably the only time she’ll look in the mirror and see anything but scarf material. She was wearing a pretty strapless dress and had her hair all done up, while almost all of the guests were wearing floor-length dresses with color-coordintated scarves to cover their head and shoulders.

At 9:45 she hadn’t come back out yet, and Shymat invited Beth to come upstairs where she was waiting. (We found out that she wasn’t really just looking in the mirror, but was waiting for her groom to arrive.) While they did that, I and some other men went around a corner or two to a coffee shop.

More than once, the party had to roll up toward the walls for a minute for a car to go through. So everybody picked up his chair and moved aside. My favorite was when a huge lumber truck came through carrying only four 2x6 boards. We really had to back up against the wall for that one.

If you’ve ridden “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disney World, you’ll understand this next picture. We’re sitting in chairs on the street with maybe 100 people dancing and talking and playing around. Above us, there are four or five floors of small apartments. From these apartments, people are leaning out their windows watching the party from above. The way the lights hit their faces reminded me of the ladies in Pirates of the Caribbean who lean out their windows to watch the tourists ride by.

Most of the dancing that went on took place in a small circle in the middle of the street. There would be three or four women dancing to the music, surrounded by a tight circle of 30 or 40 more women clapping and singing, four or five circles deep. For most of the evening, the dancers were of the bride’s generation—girls in their 20s and 30s. But at 11:15 I looked in and saw that the more mature set had supplanted them. We’re talking three “sixty-somethings” who were all more than a few kilos over their ideal body mass index.

You might notice that most all of the dancing was done by the women. The men (present author included) occupied places in the background of this party. I sat in a chair and ate cake and drank Coke and practiced my Arabic with Mohammed’s cousins well out of the dancing area. Beth and the other girls were much closer to the bride. They even shamed Beth into the middle of the circle once, telling her that the bride was really sad because she wouldn’t dance. I think she paid a kid a pound or two to bump the CD player so the music would stop then.

The groom got there about 10:00. He knew that he had four or five hours left at that point. There was some sort of ring ceremony that I couldn’t see, but it involved presenting the rings on a silver tray with some roses and candies and a small stuffed cat. (Yes, I’m serious. Why didn’t we think of that?)

At 11:30 we said goodnight, using our small children and visiting grandmother as our excuse for going home so very early in the evening. We walked back toward the main road to find a taxi, then rode back to our apartment, marveling that the same event can be celebrated in so many different ways. If any of you Americans need some advice on livening up the next engagement party you attend, just let us know.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

There's a First Time for Everything!

Sawyer had his first stroller ride yesterday. As you can see, he enjoyed it immensely. Actually, he slept through most of it, but he was awake for some of the ride home. We took advantage of the cooler temperatures we've been having this week and walked to a restaurant near our flat for dinner. It was very refreshing to be outside and not sweating profusely! I'm not sure why Lee Anna chose to strike this pose for the picture, but she did (after she told Sawyer to smile!). Lee Anna was the official stroller pusher, with Daddy as her assistant. That is, until she got tired of pushing. Then she became the official rider on Daddy's shoulders, and Mommy took over as the stroller pusher.
And here's Sawyer performing his newest trick: Smiling! He's been doing it for a few weeks now, but this morning we caught it on film for the first time. He loves to smile at the animals on his crib mobile, himself in the mirror, and--of course--at us! He hasn't figured out what to do with his tongue when he smiles, so he usually just sticks it straight out!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bumper Bus?

Yesterday, we (Jason, Beth, and Sawyer) had lunch with some friends, then got in a taxi headed home. We asked him to stop by the daycare to pick up Lee Anna. On the way, our taxi had a flat tire, so the driver got out and changed it. He was a nice, older guy, and we weren’t in a hurry, so we waited for him. He only took 5 minutes to change it, and we were on our way again.

We started down the street, but when we got to the corner, he didn’t seem to be slowing down quite as much as most drivers here would (and not nearly as much as any American driver approaching a busy intersection with cars stopped in front of him would). Instead of slowing down, he just sort of aimed at a small gap between the car in front of us and the steel barricade to the right of that car—a gap that was not big enough for our car to fit through. Beth gasped from the backseat while I pulled my elbow in from its perch in the passenger window. With some divine intervention we passed the car and barricade without hitting either.

Then it got even scarier. Approaching the intersection on the cross street was a BIG city bus full of people. The bus driver honked his horn and yelled at our driver. About then I realized our brakes weren’t functioning properly—in fact, they weren’t functioning AT ALL. We turned right to go parallel with the bus, but there wasn’t really room for us there, either, so the bus folded in the driver’s side mirror on our taxi and scraped the car a little bit while our tires were pressed against the curb on our right side. We were literally sandwiched on both sides, but we never stopped moving. The bus slowed down and we quickly pulled ahead of it.

No one was hurt, but I suggested we might pull over and stop since the brakes weren’t working! He showed me then that the brakes were starting to work again as he pumped them up, and kept going. Since we were very close to the daycare, I agreed. Usually, when we get to Lee Anna’s daycare, I ask the drivers to wait while I go in and get her—just so I don’t have to flag down another taxi while carrying a two-year-old. This time, however, we thanked him, paid him, and sent him on his way.

Thanks for praying for us.

Especially for Grandparents

Just in case you forgot how cute these kids are . . .here are a few reminders.
(Even the big kid is pretty cute.)
We've had a pretty calm week, except for one harrowing taxi experience.
I think Jason's going to write about it soon. Stay tuned.

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