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.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Fulah Dolls

Let us do the ornament by hand-made. Act out your inventor dream.
What? That's the text on the back of the box this doll came in. We bought this doll to show our American friends the Middle Eastern version of Barbie. She usually wears a lot more clothes than Barbie does. I'm just not sure what the stuff on the box is trying to say.
On the front of the box it brags "Series! Characteristic! Music" which really makes no sense. In Arabic, however, it just says "Arabic Songs." I can imagine that if I were designing boxes and trying to write in Arabic, it would sound a lot like the English written here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's Your Normal?

I was talking with a friend recently about our life here, and she commented, "You know, your 'normal' is just different than most people's 'normal.'" Since then, we've had fun taking note of some of the things we see and do every day that may not seem so commonplace to some of you. Here are some things we thought about:

Our normal is...
  • seeing multiple donkey carts ride down our street everyday
  • passing donkey carts while doing 60 mph down major highways
  • choosing whether to vacation on the Red Sea or the Mediterranean
  • daily riding in taxis older than Beth
  • having several meals each week delivered to our door--and not just pizza!
  • having almost anything delivered to our door--appliances, prescription drugs, groceries, freshly ironed clothes
  • being considered strange because we put our kids to bed "early," when "early" means any time before midnight
  • living for Thursday, since Friday and Saturday are our weekend
  • scheduling a time to meet with a friend, then waiting half an hour after the appointed time to even leave the house, because you know they'll be at least that late
  • beginning to prepare any dinner by first lighting the oven with a match
  • making frequent stops whenever we're out so people can take pictures of our kids with their camera phones
  • a washing machine that take 3 hours to wash one load--3 hours!!!
  • riding so close to other cars than you could reach out and touch them
  • seeing entire families riding on one moped, and entire extended families riding in one compact car

Our life here is certainly not "normal" by American standards, but it's perfect for us. We're so grateful for the experiences we've had here, and for all we've learned about ourselves and these beautiful people.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bubbles are fun on any continent!

(As always, click on any photo to enlarge.)

Have a Coke and a Smile

When we lived in the states, we had a yard with grass and flowers and plants and trees. I (Jason) got to maintain all of this greenery by hand. I enjoyed being out in the sun, listening to WBAP talk radio and making the yard look clean and cared-for. Frequently, after spending some quality time pulling weeds or raking or mowing, I would find strange calluses on my fingers or hands.

In our new home, while we do thankfully have an outside patio, we have no grass, and therefore, no yard work. However, I've recently noticed a hard spot on my right thumb that feels a lot like I've been doing yard work or chopping firewood. It's been there for several months, I think, but just today I figured out where it came from.

You see, in America, we bought 12-packs of cans of Dr. Pepper and Coca Cola. But here, because there are no pre-packaged 12-packs, and because we have to carry our groceries home on foot, it makes more sense to buy bottles. It's also better to buy bottles because it would be rude to serve Coke to our guests in cans. It has to be poured into a nice-looking glass and then served on a tray. The 1.5 liter bottle costs about 75 cents American. And that's where this callus comes from. Almost every day I have to open a new bottle, and evidently I've been using my right thumb to apply the necessary force to remove the bottle cap. Are we drinking too much Coke?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rub a Dub Dub

We took this picture of Sawyer right after bathtime the other night, and it reminded me of another little baby we used to take pictures of at bathtime. Both our kids are crazy about bathtime. Sawyer's current activity of choice is to see how much water he can get outside the tub. If we're not watching, he'll just start pouring cupfuls over the side! If we are watching, he'll just pour cupfuls over Lee Anna.
5Sawyer, 15 months
6Lee Anna, 7 months

That ducky towel has served us well, on two continents now.
Thanks to whoever gave it to us!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Silly Stuff

Here's Sawyer demonstrating his favorite pastime of all--pushing around a squeegee or broom. He would rather do this than almost anything. When all the kids are swimming in our little pool, he'd rather be on the ground pushing the squeegee around. He'll do it for hours--well, hours in baby time, which is really maybe about 10 minutes. But when you're only one, 10 minutes still a pretty big percentage of your life. And here's how Lee Anna and her friends improvised this weekend when they spent the night with us. They wanted to play dress up, but soon discovered that our supply of dress up clothes is pretty limited, so they decided to use these hooded towels. I think it's just as good as a real cape!
And here's what I found when I opened a kitchen cabinet to put away some dishes tonight. Apparently Lee Anna thought her kitty needed a change of scenery, so she put him to sleep in here. She has been putting things to sleep for a long time now; some of you may remember the days when she preferred to put our cell phones to sleep (click here if you need a reminder). These days she usually sticks to dolls and animals, and she usually puts them in beds, not kitchen cabinets!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Our Little Mermaid

Here's a fun video our friend took of Lee Anna "swimming" on our vacation last week, although I must say, it's much more entertaining to see her swim in person. Her swimming technique basically consists of jumping underwater, shaking her arms, legs, and head all around, then coming back up. She hasn't yet figured out how to propel herself at all, but it's fun to watch! We're pretty sure this is how all the great Olympic swimmers got their start.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Back to the Beach

Last week we got to spend several days relaxing on the Red Sea. It was a beautiful setting and lots of fun for us to see the kids having such a good time. Lee Anna's still not a big fan of sand, so we spent most of our time in the pool. We saw a huge change from last summer, when she wouldn't even let go of us in the water with her swimmies on. This time, she was jumping and diving all over the place, and we just had to remind her to come up for air! Apparently she's been paying attention during her 286 viewings of The Little Mermaid.

Sawyer had a blast, too. This was his first time to really play in a big pool, and he couldn't get enough. The only thing that got him more excited than the pool was all the birdies looking for breakfast under our lounge chairs. I'm not sure what made them think they would get anything from us--maybe it was when Sawyer turned the Pringle can up and poured the crumbs all over his face.

We had a super time and didn't want to come home. Enjoy the slide show.

We also got some great sunrise pics. Stay tuned for those sometime soon.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Objection: Leading the Witness!

When you learn a new language, it's not enough to simply take your new vocabulary and plug it into English-style sentences. People might understand you, but you will sound weird to them. Have you ever heard a non-native English speaker say something like, "I've lived here from 5 years" instead of "5 years ago?" You might have understood it, but you knew it was wrong. That's why we also have to learn something called "expression," which means learning to say it like the locals say it. This is much harder than just memorizing the vocabulary.

One place where it's easy for us to mess up is in connecting prepositions with other words. For example, in English we say that we got angry with someone. In Arabic, you would say you got angry from someone. If you said with, they would think that you and the other person both got angry together at a third party. Also, in Arabic, you don't sit in a chair, you sit on a chair, or couch, or bench, or whatever. Why is it in English that you sit in a chair but on a couch?

So our 3-year-old is in the process of learning these kinds of connections between words in both English and Arabic. Here are some questions Lee Anna has asked us this week that show that she's really picking up on some of our English expressions:
  • as I walk out of the bathroom wearing a robe, with a towel on my head: "What did you take, Mama?" (answer: a shower)

  • when she notices that I'm no longer wearing a robe but now wearing clothes: "What did you get?" (answer: dressed)

  • as I sit on the floor with sawyer lying down in front of me, with wipes and a new diaper in my hand: "What are you changing?" (answer: his diaper)

  • as I sit in the rocking chair with a sleepy Sawyer in my arms: "Where is he going?" (answer: to sleep)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Perspective on Perspectives

Perspective story 1. When we moved in to our new flat a few months ago, we had some help from our friends. One American friend was unpacking in our new kitchen. She opened the window and exclaimed, "Wow! You have a view from your window!!" I took a picture of this lovely "view" for you to enjoy. It doesn't overlook the river or the pyramids, just the side of the building next door. But the one who was looking out wasn't making fun of us. She was serious. The window in their kitchen opens toward the center of their building, so all they see is the ventilation shaft. In other words, they look out and see a dirty concrete wall about 2 feet from their window.

Perspective story 2. When Beth was pregnant with Lee Anna the ladies from our church threw us a shower. Lee Anna got more clothes than she could wear. It took two cars and Renee's Hummer to carry everything home. Beth's only clothing issue was finding a way for Lee Anna to wear each of the pretty outfits on a Sunday so the people who gave them to her would see her wearing what they gave her!

In contrast, a friend of ours named Amira recently had a baby here. She was having a little girl, so Beth went through the things Sawyer had outgrown to pick out some things that would work for a baby girl. Amira knew we had some things to give her, and she called once or twice to say that she really needed to see what we were giving her so she wouldn't buy any duplicates when she went shopping for the baby. Well, Beth put together a plastic sack (the size of a Wal-Mart sack) of baby clothes--probably 6 or 8 outfits plus some pajamas and socks. She gave the sack to Amira's sister, so she wasn't there when she saw the clothes, but later that day she got a phone call from Amira, who was just gushing with excitement. "Thank you, thank you so much!" she said. "Now I won't have to buy anything at all!" Because she had ONE Wal-Mart sack of baby gear, she wouldn't have to buy anything at all!

Perspective Story 3. When I lived in the States, I spent a fair amount of time fishing. Rivers, ponds, lakes, bays, oceans--any body of water that held fish (or that we thought might possibly support marine life) would answer just fine. As a young boy in Crestview, my friends and I would even use white bread as bait to catch small bream. Daddy would tease us about catching "a Coke-bottle full." Some of them were almost small enough to get through the spout of a Coke bottle, but not really. We often used "shiners" for bait to catch bigger bass. A shiner is a type of minnow, usually 3 to 6 inches long. You can buy them in bait shops all over the South. They have shiny scales on their sides that draw attention from bigger fish.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to a little park on the River here. There were some people there with cane fishing poles to rent. I think we paid about 20 cents for an hour, including some sickly little worms for bait. The first little "fish" I caught, I immediately threw back into the river. He was considerably smaller than the aforementioned shiners. If you laid him on a quarter, you'd see silver above him and below him. Our friends promptly yelled at me: "What are you doing?!?" They found a little plastic cup and started collecting these little guys to take home. When we got done, they had 12 or 15 "keepers" in a 16 oz. cup. And they had room to swim around a little. I asked what they were planning to do, and she said she would cook and eat them. "Fry them?" "No, cook them with rice." Seems to me like a bad thing to do to a perfectly good pot of rice.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sailing Away

On one of Andy & Samir's last nights here with us, we took them out for a little boat ride. We love these boats. They're incredibly close to our house, but once we're onboard, we might as well be a hundred miles out of the city. It's so peaceful, calm, serene--all those things that big-city life generally is not. Of course, with Sawyer and Lee Anna on board, things weren't quite as calm as they might have been otherwise. We couldn't get too relaxed or Sawyer would have crawled his way right overboard!

We took about a jillion pictures. Here are some of our favorites:

This last one is my new favorite. Can this be my little baby boy?