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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

August Already?

We've had a very special treat the past two months. Uncle Andy and his friend Samir have been here visiting from the states, working with us and getting a little taste of our lives here. We can't believe it's already time for them to go home! We have all enjoyed it, but Lee Anna has probably loved it more than any of us. She's going to miss those guys! Here are some highlights from their visit:

Thanks for a great summer, guys! Come back any time.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sawyer Andretti

The rules about car seats here are a little lax. Okay, so really there are no rules about kids in safety seats. In most of the taxis we ride in, there aren't even any seat belts, so we couldn't hook up a car seat if we had one. So, in all of Sawyer's 15 months of life, he's never been strapped in a car seat. Instead, he spends most of our taxi rides sitting up front in Daddy's lap, grabbing things off the dashboard, playing with the driver, and breaking whatever he can find to break.

Occasionally it gets even more exciting than that. Some drivers apparently think Sawyer is about old enough to start learning to drive, so they put him in their laps and let him help steer. Usually this happens just on quiet streets, but not always. Last week, Sawyer was driving us down a congested street with stop-and-go traffic. The car behind us honked several times, and then when they pulled up beside us, the driver told them, "Be patient. He's still learning!"

Here's a little video from one of Sawyer's driving adventures. Watch closely, and you'll also get to see another rarity here--a car with its headlights on. Most drivers don't use their headlights at night because they think it's rude to shine that bright light in other drivers' eyes. Beth was in a taxi recently, and the driver yelled at another driver to turn off his headlights!

Friday, July 20, 2007

What a Relief

The other day I pulled out our English-Arabic dictionary to check on the meaning of a word we'd been hearing but were unsure about. I wasn't sure of the Arabic spelling, so I looked up the English word that I thought was its equivalent. When I did, I came across some very important information in the "S" section of our dictionary. I'm sure you will all be as relieved as I was to know that there are Arabic translations for the English words slumpflation, slivovitz, and smilax. I mean, I rarely get through a day when I don't want to use one of those words speaking English, so it means a lot to me that now I can say them in Arabic, too.

A Few Minor Adjustments

As you saw a week ago, Beth and Lee Anna went with several other girlfriends to see the Disney Princesses on Ice. This is an advertisement they got at the show for a new Disney Princesses magazine being sold here. However, they've made a few changes to make these young ladies a little more culturally appropriate. Do you see what's different?

The text is translated into Arabic. The big sqiggly-looking print says "Emirat" which means "Princesses" of course. The funnier change is the wardrobe change for Ariel and Jasmine. Have you ever seen a mermaid in a one-piece bathing suit before?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Getting There Ain't Really Half the Fun

When we left the big city for the beach, we rode a train. The train was great. We had lots of room, were served a meal, and were pretty comfortable all the way there. We bought the tickets on Tuesday to travel on Thursday. Coming back on Saturday, we thought we’d just go to the train station and get tickets for the next train back to town. They run every hour or so, and we’d heard that they’re not hard to get. We didn’t want to buy them before the trip, since we didn’t know how the train would handle the little guys who travel with us. Well, on Saturday afternoon at 3:00, all those people who were on the beach Friday were trying to go home. On our train. So I stood in line for a while to find out that the next available tickets were for the 8:00. We weren’t really interested in standing around the hot sweaty train station for 5 hours with Lee Anna and Sawyer, so I walked out to start asking taxi drivers what it would cost me to get back to town in a taxi. At this point, Lee Anna just melted down and went nuts on us because we weren’t going to ride a train. Actually, she melted down several times that day. Beach vacations are hard on three-year-olds.

The first guy I met offered to take us to the bus station instead. “It’s great,” said he, “air-conditioned and everything, and they leave every half-hour.” Well the word “great” doesn’t begin to describe our trip home. Actually, the word “great” isn’t even heading in the right direction to begin to describe it. After a 20-minute taxi ride, we got to the bus station just in time to buy the last two tickets back to the Big City. Two tickets, two adults—each with a sweaty small child in his or her lap. Since we got the last two tickets, we got the back row seats on the bus, which meant sharing the long seat with two other guys. Lee Anna played with them and spoke all Arabic to them for half an hour or so. That was pretty much the bright spot in an otherwise dismal afternoon. We left our hotel at 2:30 and arrived at the house at about 8:30. The trip included a taxi to the train station, another taxi to the bus station, a long hot bus ride, and one more 30 minute taxi trip from the bus to our home. It also included a fair amount of standing around and waiting in hot sweaty places. We’ll go ahead and buy the return train tickets in advance next time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Swim Around the Clock

We took a little trip to the Mediterranean coast this weekend. The hotel and adjoining private beach area were really nice, quiet places to get away from everything. Right next to our beach, however, was a public-beach scene that will need some help from the pictures for me to accurately describe. We were just there for the weekend, so we got to see it at its most crowded. What we saw was just unbelievable. When the locals go to the beach, they don’t just spread a blanket or towel out for the family to relax—they want tables, chairs and umbrellas. So the umbrellas were lined up in something like four rows—all crammed together, edge to edge—for the better part of a mile. There were thousands of umbrellas, each covering a family or group of people getting away from the city for the weekend. Well, actually, the umbrellas were protecting the grandmothers and the food, for most of the people were out playing in the shallow water. Swimming isn’t widely taught here, so only the waist-deep water had people in it.

I was out walking with Beth’s brother and another guy Friday night ‘til midnight, and there were still hundreds of people in the water. At Midnight!! Saturday morning, I went out at 6 to see what was going on at sunrise, and yep, there were lots of people in the water then, too. Not as many as in the afternoon, but still a ton of people. Andy and I decided that the thinking is something like: “We came up here to go to the beach and swim in the ocean. We can sleep in the city.”

Check out the pictures below, and tune in tomorrow for our adventures in public transportation.

Here's the beach scene at primetime, noon on Friday. The empty section
on the left is our hotel's private beach. They had two men posted at the
end of that green wall whose job was to blow their whistle if anyone
crossed over into our area. Judging from the amount of whistle-
blowing they were doing, it happened a lot.
Here's Lee Anna standing on a beach with no one within 10 feet of her.
I don't think that could be said for anyone on the other beach.

Here's the midnight crowd.
And here's your early morning crowd, although in all likelihood, these people did not get up early to come out and swim, but were still up and going from the night before. All those tables and chairs are for the beachgoers to sit in.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Magical Night

Tonight, Lee Anna and I had a special treat. Thanks to a friend living in Amsterdam (oh, the wonders of the internet!), we found out that the Disney on Ice Princess Classics show is here visiting our city this month. So we gathered up some friends and got ready for a girls night out!

The Disney princesses show features seven princesses, and Lee Anna only really knows who one of them is, but that didn’t matter. She was mesmerized the entire time. I don’t think she said a word until about 45 minutes in. She also didn’t clap her hands, but not because she wasn’t happy. She wouldn’t clap because she didn’t want to take her hands off her ears. The sound was never once too loud or even close, but she was just sure that it was about to be. So she spent all but the last 30 minutes of the show with her hands covering her ears.
What finally got her to take her hands off was the popcorn. She couldn’t stand not having any, so she started pulling one hand down just briefly to grab a bite and stuff it in her mouth, and eventually she realized that when she did that, it wasn’t hurting her ears. From then on, she clapped and waved nonstop.

Ariel, of course, was Lee Anna’s undisputed favorite, but she also got pretty excited when Mickey and Minnie made their appearance. By far, though, Aladdin and Jasmine got the biggest response from this Middle Eastern crowd.

We had a great night. This is something we certainly never expected to do here! Thanks, Whitney, for the tip, and thanks, Daddy, for giving your girls a night out.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Check, Please!

Beth and I eat out a lot. A whole lot. We ate out a fair amount in the States, as well, so we've seen and noticed lots of differences in dining practices around the world. In any self-respecting restaurant in Texas, for instance, you always start with chips and salsa. If you're eating seafood in the South, you can probably find cheese grits on the menu. And in almost all the American restaurants we've been in, if you order an appetizer and an entree, they'll bring you the appetizer before the rest of your meal. We've discovered in our time here that these practices (and lots of others!) are not necessarily globally accepted. Sometimes, though, the cultures clash in ways we never imagined.

When you eat at an American restaurant in the states--say Applebee's or Chili's or On the Border--you seldom have to ask for the check. Your waitress will likely bring it as you finish your meal, sometimes even right after the food arrives at your table. This is for your convenience: you may pay and leave at your leisure.

Here, however, it is bad form to bring the check before you ask for it. I've even had several waiters pretend that they didn't want to bring the check: "It's still early!! Are you ready to leave so soon?" And when you do ask for the check, they almost always come and bus the table of all the dirty dishes then go print your receipt and bring it back. If you don't ask for it, you might be left drinking coffee until closing time. Our first week here, we wasted a lot of time sitting and waiting for the check to come.

Last night we saw what can happen when the two worlds collide. We were in an American restaurant called Lucille's. It's just like you might imagine a joint called Lucille's to be like: great burgers, chicken-fried steak, big french fries, vegetable-of-the-day and everything. They even have chocolate pie. This place would work well in West Texas (except for the beef bacon). We eat there about once a week. Well last night, a local girl was there with some friends. Evidently they were just drinking Coke and enjoying themselves when the waiter brought the check to the table. He just left it there for them to take care of whenever they got ready to go. (At least that's how our American eyes saw it.) Her North African eyes saw it differently, however. She picked up the bill, and called for the waiter. "What's This!?!? I didn't ask for my check!! What are you saying?? I am deeply offended!!" Then she took the check from the table and ripped it into several small pieces. The poor waiter responded that this was just their system...it's an American restaurant...no offense intended. Well, she couldn't let it go. She yelled at him some more, then yelled at the other waiters who came to try to help. Then they took her to the front of the restaurant where she talked on the phone--maybe with Lucille herself. Her friends at the table just sat there waiting for all this to be over, trying to figure out how much they needed to pay. Eventually, she came back to the table and sat for another twenty minutes with her friends. Then they all left, in an awkwardly quiet fashion.

I wonder, when we visit the states, am I going to be offended when the waitress brings my check without clearing my table?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Reason to Celebrate

Happy Fourth of July from the Davis Kids! Here's Sawyer saying,
"Just because I've never been there doesn't mean I can't celebrate!"

And speaking of celebrating, Lee Anna gave us a good reason to the other day. On Saturday, we went to the annual 4th of July Party that the U.S. Embassy puts on here. It's always a good time, with tons of free food, fun games for the kids, and lots and lots of door prizes. Last year, we came home happy because we won a bag of camel-bone beetles and a packet of suncare products. This year, we did a little better.

First, we won dinner for two at a nice Lebanese restaurant. We were pumped about that, but only because we didn't know what else we had coming. At the end of the party, they had the final drawing for the big Grand Prize, and guess whose number they drew! Yep, Lee Anna's. I had to pick her up and carry her to the stage since she had no idea what was going on. She was a little spooked by all the people staring at her, but she handled it okay. What did she win? A 4-day, 5-night Nile Cruise, including airfare to get there! So now she just has to decide whether Mommy or Daddy gets to go with her. Who do you think she should take?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Haircuts All Around

Today was a big day for Sawyer--his first haircut. As you've seen in previous posts, after fourteen months he was getting a little shaggy, so we decided it was time for a visit to Jason's barber.
Here are a few "Before" shots (above and below)
And here's the "After" shot.
(Remember you can click any of them to enlarge.)
I realize in these pictures it looks like there's no hair to cut, but trust me, it's there. It's just very, very blonde. (Don't ask us where the blonde hair and blue eyes came from. We don't know.)
Lee Anna thought that Sawyer's haircut looked like so much fun that she should have one, too. So we walked next door to the women's side and she got her hair cut as well. Thankfully, her stylist left a little more hair than Sawyer's did. Here she is posing after they were all finished.

Stay tuned this week. We've got some more fun things to blog about soon.