Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
We're very sorry we didn't get a shot of the guy selling large framed artwork--
Here are Jason and Sawyer, enjoying our 'relaxing' (HA) day at the beach.
Note the half-eaten plate of spaghetti and eggplant. It must be early in the day, judging by the still-pale color of Jason's shoulder.
I could handle swimming in jeans and a t-shirt (although I don't want to do it again any time soon). It was having to wear wet jeans for the next five hours that really got to me.
wearing a white tank top. They're about the same color.
You can read more than you ever needed to know
about our trip to the beach in the post below.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Editor’s note II: Our DSL connection is down, so we’ll post some pictures when it’s working again.
Earlier this week: We made plans with our friend Mohammed to go to the beach with his family this Saturday. He arranged to rent a car and said they would pick us up at 5:00 a.m. I talked him into waiting until 6:00 (I thought).
Midnight Friday night: I set the alarm clock for 5:00 and went to sleep, thinking it would be at least 6:30 or 7:15 before they got over here.
5:00 a.m. The alarm goes off and I hit snooze.
5:09 a.m. The alarm starts again.
5:11 a.m. Beth gets up and takes a shower.
5:19 a.m. Jason gets up and brushes his teeth.
5:26 a.m. Ding Dong!! The doorbell rings repeatedly. They’re here. Jason puts on a t-shirt and shorts and lets them in, but tells them we need 5 or 10 more minutes.
5:45 a.m. Shymet asks Beth if she’s going to wear those pants. Apparently she thinks Beth’s pants look like pajamas. So Beth goes back and puts on her jeans to swim in all day.
5:55 a.m. We leave the house. Nine of us (5 grown-ups and 4 smaller ones) load up into a compact rented car for the two-hour ride to the coast.
6:00 a.m. Mohammed asks if it’s okay to go to the north coast rather than the east coast. We’ve never been to either, so it’s all the same to us.
8:30 a.m. We arrive at the beach and rent chairs, umbrellas and two little tables. We’re not the first ones there by any means, but we’ll learn later that it’s not really crowded yet either.
9:13 a.m. Shymet declares that it’s time to eat. She begins pulling dishes and food items out of the bags they brought and serves our plates. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce, fried beef (sorta like cube steak, only thinner) and French fries—all room temperature having been prepared 5 or 6 hours earlier.
On the beach there were guys walking by selling stuff all day. It started with just some kids offering hot tea or canned Pepsi.(In Arabic, they just yelled “Shay-bebs” which means “tea, Pepsi”) That was logical enough. The next ones to show up were selling inflatable water toys and buckets to make sand castles. That made sense, too. As the crowd got thicker, the sellers did, too. I understood the ones selling nuts and other snacks. I could also see why there were guys carrying baskets of fresh fish and shrimp. I could stretch and say it might be logical to sell hairbrushes, shorts, shirts, and handbags. Even the make-up seller might find people who forgot their lipstick. However, I’m not so sure about the guys selling Rubbermaid style canisters and mops and brooms on the beach. And I am sure it made no sense to my American eyes to see a guy hawking big framed pictures and mirrors. BIG mirrors with gold frames. Like 18 inches by 36 inches and bigger! The irony is that the only one of these things I saw anybody actually purchase was the big framed picture.
10:00 a.m. Breakfast being finished, our friends start insisting that we get in the water and swim with them. Beth manages to sit out the first round, using the “I’m-holding-the-baby” excuse. The water is chilly and salty, but we have a good time swimming in it.
Several times, I’d have Lee Anna out in the water and she’d start crying “Mommy! Mommy!!” and insist that we go in and see her. When we’d get to the shore, she’d immediately point to the horizon and beg “Water!! Water!!” (or Maya, Maya, in Arabic). Just in case it wasn’t complicated enough going to the beach with a family who doesn’t speak English, Lee Anna refuses to get sand on her feet. At the BEACH! So somebody has to hold her or leave her in a chair all day long.
11:00 a.m. Shymet orders hot tea for them and “something cold” for Beth after arguing with numerous sellers that (the equivalent of) 40 US cents was too much; she thinks 17 cents (one pound) is enough. She makes Mohammed come in from the water to drink hot tea even though the temperature is supposed to reach 100 later that day.
12:00 noon. I’m in the water with Mohammed. He says he’s hungry, so we head in to start the next round of eating. I’m not real hungry, so I politely decline. Mohammed, though he is admittedly hungry, won’t eat since I’m not eating. I don’t realize this, so I’m surprised to see him go to sleep in the chair instead. I’m not too surprised, however, since he hasn’t been to sleep for about 24 hours. (He worked all night while she stayed up and cooked.)
12:30 p.m. As the beach gets more crowded, I notice a big difference between this and American beaches in the amount of space each family “claims.” In the States, it’s pretty well understood that you don’t want to be right up next to another group, and the space between their blankets and the water is “theirs.” Here, there were boys wrestling in the wet sand right in front of our chairs, and other families within arm’s reach from where I sat.
1:30 p.m. Mohammed wakes up and we start getting ready for another meal. Shymet and her sister “wash” the plates we had used for breakfast with a little bottled water, scraping out the dried tomato sauce with their sandy fingers. They serve our plates for us, so we each get another full plate of spaghetti and fried meat and French fries and roasted chicken.
2:00 p.m. I discover that my whole body is a bright shade of pink. Uh oh. Beth, however, is not getting burned very badly, since she’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt . Shymet is wearing long sleeves, but she told Beth the t-shirt was okay. Mohammed and family would like to stay until sunset or so, but I start hinting that we might need to head back before that. None of them has even considered applying sunscreen, while we’ve each had several applications. That’s what we get for being palefaces. (Shymet did like the fact that it was easy to find me and Mohammed out in the water. Beth heard her tell her sister, “Just look for the white back.”)
2:30 p.m. We have a plan: “You guys go swim one more time, while we hide under the umbrellas, and then we’ll all load up and go home. We are very happy sitting up here. Really.” No, that won’t work, since they refuse to swim without us. So we all start readying up to go back to the city. The girls all go back to a small wooden “changing room” that’s sitting out in the middle of the sand. It’s just a little square room with nails in the walls to hang your clothes on. There are some boys who stand outside while you go in to change. When you come out, they want money for guarding the door.
3:30 p.m. Head out. All nine in one car again—a little saltier and sandier, and much more exhausted. It takes about 2.5 hours to get there, but it seemed like 14 hours coming back.
Next time we take these two kids to the beach, I hope to have Sawyer’s 9th grade class with us!
Thursday, June 22, 2006
We're going to the beach Saturday with the same family we've seen the last two Saturdays. Watch this space Sunday for fun pics of a beach where women can't even wear shorts!
Saturday, June 17, 2006
He said they wanted to eat American food, but last week he had volunteered his wife to teach Beth to make something from here. He said they’d bring stuff for one local dish, and we’d just need to have onions and garlic and salt on hand (lots of garlic and salt). We decided for the American part of the meal, we’d make a chicken pie.
When they got here, they had brought ingredients for several dishes. So the ladies cooked eggplant, squash with tomatoes, and rice to go along with our chicken pie and fruit salad. And the ever-present “country bread.” This bread is a little hard to describe. It’s round and flat, but much thicker than a tortilla. It’s made from wheat flour, but has the consistency of cornbread, only spongier. It’s cooked on a flat surface of some kind, and looks dirty, but it’s not really (I think.) It’s also for sale everywhere. There are several corners in our neighborhood where people sit and sell it, and there are also push-carts and bicycle carts selling it on the move. Of course you can also buy it from any grocery store in the city.
Since we said 3 or 4 o’clock, they got here at 4:40 (very culturally appropriate) and we actually ate a little after 6:00. The girls worked in the kitchen while the boys played with the babies in the living room. Shymet asked Beth “What’s this” and pointed to the microwave. When Beth answered in Arabic, it’s a “Meekrowave” she just stared blankly. Beth tried to explain, and demonstrated by heating up a cup of water, but I don’t think she saw any advantage over the gas stove. After all, the water gets hot either way. Meanwhile, in the living room, Mohammed told me I shouldn’t wear my shoes in the house because I’d get the floor dirty. I was thinking it’s been a day or three since the floor got a good mopping, and I didn’t want to get my feet dirty!
At one point in the evening, Sawyer got a little fussy because he was hungry. So the same lady who took him away from Beth last week for holding him on her shoulder and not properly supporting his back tried to give him a bite of her brownie and ice cream!! Beth was there to fend her off, however, so he’s still on a milk-only diet.
Lee Anna apparently has some friends named Mohammed at her school. She pronounces it the same way they do: “Hamm-med.” Several times tonight she wanted more water in her cup, so she would say, loudly, “Hamm-med! Water!” She didn’t want water from Mommy or Daddy, just Hamm-med.
They stayed several more hours after the meal. I played and sang several Chris Tomlin songs for them on my guitar. When they tried to leave about 8:15, our half-hearted “oh it’s still early” was enough to get them to hang around another 45 minutes. The evening ended about 9:00 with Lee Anna following them out the door saying “Bye bye” over and over.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Last Saturday, we had the privilege of eating dinner in the home of a local family. Our friend and frequent taxi driver, Mohammed, invited us to eat with him and his wife and two daughters. We had never met his wife (whose name is Shymat) before, partially because we only see Mohammed when he’s working, and partially because she was nervous about meeting us because she doesn’t speak any English.
Getting to their flat reminded me of an old Jeff Foxworthy one-liner about “turning off the paved road”. We walked from a major road down a small alley with lots of little shops of all varieties, then turned again onto an even smaller alley—probably 8 or 10 feet wide. Then we went into a dark stairwell and up four floors worth of really old steep stone stairs.
We followed our host’s lead and left our shoes out by the door, and went into their flat. Their apartment had four rooms, and was a little smaller than our 600 square-foot apartment in Ft. Worth. He took me into the formal living room with the gold-painted furniture while Beth went and met his wife and the girls—one 6 years old, and one 7 months old. After a few minutes, we all got together in the girls’ bedroom, which doubled as the den and dining room (and had the refrigerator in it.)
He sent his six-year-old daughter (well, actually she was a week shy of her 6th birthday) down the street to get a newspaper, then spread it on the floor and told us that was the dining table. We all sat on the floor around the paper while Shymat brought out several platters of food. We had eggplant, fried liver, stuffed doves, fries, stewed tomatoes and squash, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. The locals don’t always have drinks with their meals, but they provided a glass for each family to share and a bottle of water.
The food was good, but eating was a little different. We were each given a big serving spoon and a small saucer-sized plate. We put the foods on our plate, then tore off a piece of flat bread to pick up the food with to eat it. During the meal, they sent their daughter back to the store for more bread. Are any of you Americans ready to send your kindergartener to the store for bread? We didn’t have napkins, but since we were sitting on the floor, I was able to use the leg of my jeans from time to time. After the meal, he brought out a big hand towel for us to clean up with.
For dessert, they brought out a tray of Coca Cola in fancy wine glasses. That was followed by a plate of fruit—apples, oranges and mangoes—which we had brought as a gift. We hung around and talked for another hour or more, then she made tea. People drink hot tea all the time here. It is served in small glasses with ridiculous amounts of sugar.
The room we were sitting in had double doors that opened to the balcony. They were opened the whole time to let a little wind and light in. Shymat told us they didn’t really need an air conditioner because there was always a good breeze up on the fourth floor. After the sun went down, Mohammed went and got a light bulb from another room and plugged it in so we could see each other. While their apartment was fairly Spartan, their hospitality was as warm and friendly as any home in the Southern US. We stayed for almost four hours and had a delightful evening.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Lee Anna loves this little phone. Every button plays a different song. I'm sure you could find similar models in the states, but I doubt you could find one that says "Benign Girl" on the front! We're pretty sure a non-native English speaker came up with that one.
This is a 2-in-1 xylophone and piano--perfect for a kid from a musical family like ours. It's actually very much like a toy you might find in the states. What's unusual about this one was the packaging. Anyone who has ever opened a child's toy in the states knows that it almost takes a special degree to get the toy out of the box. Well, that's not a problem here. We just opened the cardboard box, pulled the piano out, and Lee Anna got busy making beautiful music. Maybe Fisher Price could learn a few things from these folks.
This one is definitely a regional specialty. It's a furry camel purse that plays Arabic music when you squeeze it. I bet you haven't seen any of those at Wal-Mart!
And finally, our birthday gift for Lee Anna: a big stuffed rocking elephant. The store where we bought it also had rocking giraffes, zebras, and cows, but the elephant was definitely the cutest. We thought it was appropriate for her first birthday in Africa. Her friend Landon came over today and agreed to help model the gifts for you. Thanks, Landon!
About the Title:
On the morning of her birthday, Jason wanted to give Lee Anna a hint about her gift, so her asked her, "What's big and gray and furry and rocks?" Needless to say, she didn't quite figure it out.
Monday, June 12, 2006
To all my admiring fans:
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Sunday, June 04, 2006
On a positive note, at least one of us is starting to pick up this language. When people ask Lee Anna what her name is (in Arabic), she answers "Nana." Actually, tonight when a taxi driver asked her, she said "Sawyer," not because she didn't understand the question, but because she thought it was funny.
Pretty soon we'll be asking her what people are saying to us!