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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

A post from Sawyer
Hi Everyone! Today I finally mastered my newest trick—rolling over! I’ve been doing it from time to time for at least a month now, but mostly by accident when I would straighten my arms out just right. But today I really figured out what I’m doing, and I’ve been rolling over all day long. I was so excited about it that I started early, at 4:00 a.m! I rolled over once and Daddy came and put me back on my tummy, but then I did it again so Mommy could see, too! Then every time I woke up from a nap, I did it again. I like to be on my back so I can look at the animals on the mobile above my bed. While my Mom has been typing this, I’ve rolled over twice!

I’m a little camera shy, so I haven’t actually let Mom catch me in the act of rolling over—just before and after. If she keeps the camera close by, though, she can probably get a shot of me mid-roll before too long.

Here I am when I woke up from my nap this afternoon. Mom found me talking happily on my back.

So then she put me back on my tummy . . .

And I rolled over before she could get her camera ready!

I was pretty proud of myself, as you can see!

Mommy says I’m getting to be a big boy. Keep watching to see what tricks I’ll do next!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Out-of-Town Adventure, Part The Last

What It's All About

We promise this is the last post from the retreat, but we wanted to let you see that it was more than just fun and games. Even though we don't understand most of the words they say and sing during their meetings, we can see in their faces that their love is real. We were so thankful to be able to spend a week with our Arab brothers and sisters--and we're so glad that our Father hears us in whatever language we speak!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Out-of-Town Adventure, Part VI

Ain't Goin' Down Til' the Sun Comes Up

Now it’s 12:35 a.m., and Lee Anna is just getting ready for bed. How did we get into this absurd position?

At 10:15 each night, they have organized rec time. [Dad, Drew, and anyone else planning a camp for next summer, try writing that into your schedule.] Of course, that is immediately after dinner, so it doesn’t seem so late. When we head to our room at around midnight, they’re still going strong. Meanwhile, there are also kids sacked out everywhere. They just don’t see the need to bother with putting them in a bed. One night, our friend Amal pushed 2 plastic chairs together so each of her boys (ages 6 and 2) could sleep while she and her husband kept playing games. We’ve seen several kids at lunch just lean their heads against the table and go to sleep. On Thursday at lunch, little 10-month-old Julie fell asleep with a bite of food in her mouth. One minute she was eating happily, the next minute she was out cold, right there in her Mama’s lap. That's Julie in the middle picture.

On Friday before we left, they had a “Closing Ceremony” kind of time. At one point during it, we heard several announcements of numbers and lists of people that sounded to us like scores and teams from an ongoing competition. As they called out those names and numbers, our friend turned to us and asked us which team we were on. Clueless, Beth asked, “You mean which study group were we in?” She replied, “No, the teams from all the games every night.” That’s when we first realized we had missed some things by going to our room at midnight. We had no idea what she was talking about.

Also during that last session, they gave out CDs with copies of all the digital pictures people had taken at this event (there were only 4 people with cameras). On Friday evening, after we got home, Beth was looking through them and yelled for me, “Hey! Come look at this!!” So I came running, expecting to see a cute shot that somebody else had taken of Lee Anna in the pool. What she had found was lots of pictures of things we had no idea had taken place. Organized games involving water balloons, blindfolds, and yogurt. We missed all that because we had gone to bed so early with our little kids. AT MIDNIGHT! The games depicted here all took place between 12 and 2:30 a.m.
What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. We should be pretty strong after all this.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Out-of-Town Adventure, Part V

She Wore an Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny…

Oh, wait, that must have been somewhere else.

While these women were downright scandalous compared to what we saw on our beach trip, none of them wore anything that would classify as “teeny weeny.” The typical ladies swimwear looks a lot like spandex shorts and a tank top, although some have swimsuits with short sleeves and skirts, too. A few even swam in their regular pants and shirts, but only a few. On Tuesday, Beth’s shoulders made their first public appearance in Africa. She swam in her regular swimsuit, plus a tank top and Umbro shorts. Lee Anna calls her suit a “baby suit,” but she’s trying to say bathing suit. And she really wants to put it on first thing every morning.

Once again, male bathing suit attire was a different story. Beth said I was wearing enough bathing suit for three guys. I’m wearing the same old black board shorts I’ve been wearing in America for several years, and they’re not even very long, compared to many American guys’ shorts. But these fellas are putting the “short” back in “shorts.” Even a Speedo or two. Really quite fascinating when they don’t even wear shorts back in the city.

Since our lunch time (at 3:30, remember?) was wedged between two swim/free times, a lot of people just wore their swimwear to lunch. But no, thankfully, we didn’t have to eat lunch with guys in Speedos at our table. They wore their swimwear under big terry-cloth bath robes. It does look funny to see people in bathrobes eating lunch, but they’re just saving two trips up to the room to change when they know they’re going right back in the pool. While the ladies in their modest suits are very, very quick to cover up when they get out of the water, they guys in their Speedos don’t see any need for that. One day a big group stayed for an hour playing soccer next to the pool in their swimsuits. Quite a sight.

Another cultural difference we’ve discerned is that most of these girls don’t know how to swim. They’ve grown up surrounded by a culture that frowns on such public displays, so they haven’t had many opportunities to learn. Because of this, many of them are afraid of the water. They’ll get in on the shallow end and just hug the wall the whole time. In a lot of ways, though, swimming with these folks was just like swimming with friends in the states. The kids love to splash and play, the parents love to see their kids having fun, and being in the water just generally makes everybody pretty happy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Out-of-Town Adventure, Part IV

Meal Time! Tuesday, August 15

Do you remember the old story about the two ol’ boys from South Alabama who were comparing hunting dogs? Leroy’s dogs were sleek and shiny and strong, and Bubba’s dogs were not. So Bubba asked Leroy what he did to make them look so good. Leroy said, “I only feed them collard greens.” Well three days later Bubba saw Leroy again and told him “My dogs won’t eat collard greens.” And Leroy just laughed and said, “Mine wouldn’t either for the first three weeks.”

I felt a little like Leroy’s dogs when we finally got around to eating on Monday. Lunch is at 3:30 here. THREE THIRTY!! That’s a long time after the 6:30 breakfast we had at home. After nine hours, that tomato and cucumber salad was pretty tasty. Breakfast here will be at 9:00 so there shouldn’t be such a big gap for the rest of the week.

Meals here are a little different. The big meal is lunch (the 3:30 one) and breakfast and supper are usually different combinations and types of bread and cheese. Oh yeah, and they also have beans for breakfast. They bring little bowls of beans to the table, and then someone else walks around with extra oil if your beans aren’t greasy enough. After breakfast, there’s a mad dash for hot tea. They drink their tea with sugar and milk. A lot of them fill their cup over halfway with milk, put several spoonfuls of sugar, and then add a little hot water and a tea bag. It’s pretty tasty.

At the table, there is usually a pitcher of cold water and one tin cup. They just fill up the cup, and everyone drinks some as they like. I’ve seen several folks drinking out of the pitcher, too, but they always drink out of the side so they won’t get their germs on the part people might want to pour from. The hardest part for Beth is that there are never any napkins. Everybody just washes their hands when the meal is over. They lather their hands up with soap and then also wash all around their mouths with their soapyhands. During the meal, they use their bread (a brown flatbread kind of like a pita) as a napkin to keep their hands from getting too greasy.

Lunch everyday consisted of rice or pasta, salad (sliced up cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes), and a meat (chicken or fish). It was very good. When we finished all that, they would bring out a tray of fresh fruit for dessert, except for one day, when they brought out cups of 7-Up instead. We had cantaloupe one day, and our friend looked very confused when I told her that in the states we usually eat cantaloupe for breakfast. She was probably thinking, “Oh no, that’s way too sweet to eat at breakfast.” Aren’t cultures fascinating?

Check back tomorrow for Swim Time!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Out-of-Town Adventure, Part III

Our House, It’s a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Monday, August 14
We slept only 4 hours on the night before we left, so we were really happy to get into our room and lay down. It had three twin beds and a big window and door to the balcony. There were two 18” fluorescent lights, and one of them even worked (after a 2- to 5-minute warm-up period). What it didn’t have was an air conditioner. It had a small water heater in the bathroom, but we didn’t really need that, since it’s so warm here. (It’s a good thing we didn’t need it because it didn’t work anyway.) So basically, we never had to worry about running out of hot water.

We’ve been to friends’ homes who don’t have A/C, but this is the first time we’ve had to live in it for an extended period. In Texas, we had central air all over our house, and parked our air-conditioned car in our garage and drove to our air conditioned stores and offices. At our flat in the city, we have A/C in the living room and bedroom, but we walk outside to non-air-conditioned taxis and drive to stores with no A/C either. This week, we’ve reached a new level of “non-air-conditioned living.” Because of that, we’re getting to experience the weather a lot more personally. We opened the door and window to our balcony the first night and didn’t close them again until we left. We actually got cold a few times early in the morning and had to use our towels as blankets.

The bathroom is a story all it’s own. The shower was right next to the potty, but there’s no curtain or door or enclosure of any kind. When the water pressure is high enough for a shower (which it usually wasn’t in the morning), the shower sprays right on the potty. There’s a drain hole in the floor, and a squeegee to dry the floor when you’re finished. Sometimes when you turn on the shower or the sink faucet, absolutely nothing happens. Then you just have to wait until some other people turn theirs off, and it will make some gurgling sounds and then pick back up. The top of the sink has a cool "self-rinsing" feature. If you turn the water on less than full pressure, the water doesn't actually get into the sink, but gets everything at the top of the sink wet. Here are Jason and Lee Anna washing off after pool time one day:

The door to our room was kinda fun. They gave us a key and it worked fine to lock and unlock the door. The catch is that you couldn’t open the door from the inside without it. So on Monday afternoon, Beth took Lee Anna up to the room to put her down for a nap, but when she realized after 30 minutes that Lee Anna wasn’t going to go to sleep, they couldn’t get out. They just had to wait an hour until I came back and opened the door from the outside. When it happened to me the next day, I took apart the doorknob with my Leatherman and let myself out. After that, we started keeping our phones with us all the time, and leaving the key in the door, on the inside. We weren’t as concerned with security as we were with missing a meal because we couldn’t get out.

The beds were just big cotton batting. Not real soft. There was only one sheet on each bed, but we didn’t need much cover anyway. The pillows reached all the way across the bed. Lee Anna liked to lie down with her whole body on the pillow instead of just her head. She usually fell asleep there and then rolled off sometime during the night. We just had 3 beds, so Jason and I each had one and Lee Anna and Sawyer shared a bed. After Lee Anna rolled off her pillow, we put it in between them so she wouldn’t roll onto Sawyer during the night. Here they are during nap time one day:

Coming Tomorrow: Meal Time Posted by Picasa

Fun Times on the Bus

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Out-of-Town Adventure, Part II

Getting There is Half the Fun

Monday, August 14

We left our house at 7:30 this morning. The flier said to be there at 7:00, one friend said 8:00, and one friend said 7:30. We only slept from 12:30 to 5:00 or so. At one point this morning as we were rushing around our house getting ready, we thought we should have gotten up earlier, but really we would have been okay to sleep a few minutes (or hours) later. We could tell when we arrived just after 7:30 that we were not the last ones by a long shot. There were some people there, but no buses, and not nearly the 100 people we had heard would be going on the trip.

It felt a lot like an American trip when we heard the people who had gotten there on time complaining about the late arrivers. We waited at church (and on the buses, once they arrived) while everyone gathered there and finally left at 9:00 for a “two and a half hour” trip. Our group leader took the mic and asked if anyone was still asleep. He then confessed he hadn’t slept all night. We weren't that surprised, since many of them regularly stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning. I thought it was the driver talking, so I was a bit nervous.

One big difference Beth noticed was that a lot of the ladies had spent some time this morning primping and getting their hair all prettied-up for a bus ride. Many of them, especially the older ladies, were wearing fancy Sunday clothes. This event must be a pretty big deal to them. It never occurred to her that she should roll her hair and dress up to ride the bus to a retreat site.

The bus was air-conditioned, thank goodness, so we had a very comfortable ride for the first hour. However, right after the 10:45 rest stop, (why did we need a one-hour rest stop on a two hour trip?) we started smelling gas on the bus, so the driver stopped to check it out. Leaky hose…driver tries to tape it up…doesn’t work…driver goes to town for a new part. An hour later, we’re still waiting in the hot bus on the side of the desert road. Some of us got out of the bus for a few minutes, but there was just blazing sunshine out there. It was just after noon, so there was zero shade. During this stop, all that done-up hair got pulled back into more practical pony-tails and buns.

Beth and I got a little hungry on this trip, but not Lee Anna. On the bus ride she was given chips (several bags) a Twinkie, Cheetos, a small bread loaf (sorta like a hot dog bun), a sandwich and an apple to eat, and had her little sippy-cup filled with Coca Cola! She’s only TWO!!

So we got here at 2:00, after several wrong turns and backing the bus up for missed turn lanes. Seems we weren’t the only ones who didn’t know where we were going.

Check back tomorrow to hear about our “slightly-less-than-five-star" accommodations.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Out-of-Town Adventure, Part I

This past week, we took a little excursion with the church we’ve been attending. They called it a “conference” or “retreat,” and it looked a lot like a summer youth camp in the States. However, there were some noticeable differences from the camps we’ve attended in the past. Over the next few days, we’ll share with you some of our journal entries so you can get a taste of our experience.

Here’s a picture of the retreat center. There were about 100 of us there, including all the children. The ages ranged from Sawyer (three months) up to pretty old. There were several senior adults there who must be getting near 80. Lots of young families went, so Lee Anna had lots of friends to play with.

If there were 100 people there, 96 of them spoke really good Arabic (because they’ve been speaking it since birth!). Fortunately, there were several in their group with limited English-speaking skills, but overall we just heard lots and lots of Arabic all week. Because of that, we were pretty much in the dark the whole time about what was happening next. That got kind of frustrating, but when we decided to start asking more questions about the schedule, we found out that most of them didn’t have a clue what was happening next either! Schedules were not nearly as important as they were at all of the other camps we’ve ever attended.

Even so, there was a basic schedule that we followed each day. Here’s the rough (and very flexible) outline:
8:15—Wake Up Call (a.k.a. boys walking up and down the hall banging on everyone’s door loudly and repeatedly)
9:00—Breakfast (consists of bread, cheese, a boiled egg, and a bowl of something similar to refried beans, followed by hot tea)
10:00—Morning Sessions (sing some songs together, break for quiet time, get back together to sing and hear a speaker)
12:45—Free Time (a.k.a. Pool time)
3:30—Lunch (the big meal of the day—rice, meat, salad, etc., and fresh fruit for dessert)
4:15—More Free Time/Pool Time/Nap Time
6:30—Second Tea Time
7:00—Evening Sessions (more singing, sometimes small groups, sometimes large group with a speaker)
10:15—Organized Recreation Time
2 a.m. (or later)—Lights out

We must confess that we never quite made it to “Lights Out.” We’re just not yet inculturated enough to keep our 3-month-old and 2-year-old out until 2 a.m. Maybe after we’ve been here a little longer . . .

Keep watching for lots more stories from our week. It was quite an adventure!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Hangin' out in my crib

Hi, Everyone! Today I decided to pose for these pics so my Mimi and G.G. can see how strong I've gotten since they left. One time during this photo shoot, I even looked straight up above me to see the animals on my mobile. Talk about skills!
I call this pose "Beached Whale." I lift up my head and my legs at the same time and balance on my tummy. Sometimes I also make grunting noises while I do it. My big sister thinks it's really funny, and she likes to try to do it, too.
This is a picture of me singing. I like to try to sing really high notes. My mom calls it squealing, but I think she's just jealous 'cause I can sing higher than she can. Dad says I better learn to sing some low notes so I can sing bass in our family quartet.

Monday, August 07, 2006

New Job for Lee Anna

Lee Anna has recently assumed a new role as Official Keeper of the Family Shoes. As such, she fulfills such duties as bringing us our shoes, helping us take them off and put them on (whenever she deems necessary), and pointing them out to us when we leave them around the house. She also frequently tries on each family member's shoes, checking to make sure they're still working properly. Sometimes she has to try on a pair several times in a row to make sure it's just right. One time recently, while we were getting ready to go somewhere, Jason had the privilege of helping her put on the same pair of shoes 4 times. That made him really happy.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Another Wedding

Last night I went to a wedding that was a great deal more familiar to me than the other wedding events we’ve been a part of here. Any of you who attended my wedding to Beth (15 July 2000) have been to a very similar affair. The room was about the same size, replete with stained glass and a balcony. There were several hundred people gathered, mostly wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. There were, however, a few subtle differences I’d like to share with you.

When we got married, we had the rehearsal on Friday night and got married on Saturday. This wedding was supposed to start at 7, but the bridesmaids and groomsmen did their rehearsing at about ten minutes before seven. Not to worry, though, they still had a full hour before the actual event.

The bridesmaids processed to the tune you’re accustomed to hearing for the recessional. Then, the bride’s father turned her over to the groom at the back of the church and he walked her down the aisle himself. The bride and groom then took their seat on a small golden loveseat on the stage. They were situated stage-left just a little, while the pulpit was on the far right edge of the chancel. The bride wore a pretty white dress, and enough eye-liner for all the women there.

The service started in a traditional way with a prayer for the couple. Then the musical group presented two of their songs. That’s why I was there. I’ve been playing my guitar with a group in their rehearsals (trying to get comfortable playing in minor keys), and they wanted me to play at the wedding. So I did. The first song we played was “I Will Enter His Gates” and I sang through it in English first (I really don’t know why) then the others sang it all in Arabic. All told, we played and sang seven or eight songs, and the crowd sang along on several of them.

At our wedding, Shirley Callaway was there to regulate and keep everybody in line. Our church had a policy that the camera folk were not permitted any closer to the action than the front edge of the balcony. Last night, however, the video guys (and their cable-men) roamed freely about the room and the chancel area. And these video cameras were rigged with bright TV lights. The video was being displayed on the big screen beside the stage, so I looked up from my guitar one time and saw my smiling face much larger than life.

There were four junior groomsmen boys there. They stayed seated for a while, but after about an hour, I saw the four of them drinking from juice boxes and walking around between the pews and the stage. The stage was at least six feet high, so the boys didn’t really distract much. The camera men, however, had ladders set up in front of the stage so they could get a little closer to the goings-on.

Another element that was very familiar was the message from a pastor. It was all in Arabic, but I understood something about not going home to your Mama and Daddy. You’ve heard that at a wedding, haven’t you?

Generally, it was a whole lot like weddings in the states.

The language barrier is hard to describe. I was seeing very familiar sights, but I still couldn’t really tell exactly what was being said. I couldn’t even read the program our music leader printed so I’d know when we were singing. I felt somewhat like I was wearing a blindfold or something, since I couldn’t really keep up with the event. I often feel like I’m on the outside looking in, even when I’m up front and everyone is watching me. At times last night, I felt a little like an animal in the zoo: “Hey, look! A very white kid! Go talk to him, he can even say a few words in Arabic!!” Sounds like good motivation to keep studying.

+++There are no bad experiences—only good stories.+++