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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Phone Dump

Here, in no particular order, are some pics that we've taken with our phones over the last month: It's 75 degrees outside, and this guy's wearing a furry Russian winter cap. What kid doesn't love playing in balls? Out in the desert, they made this little overhang their "rock workshop."

Yes, it's English. Bad, misspelled English, but English. Get it? At the park, Sarah Claire was apprehended for a brief photo shoot. I don't blame them for wanting her picture. :)
Love those three!
Look! It's a real Auntie Anne's pretzel!
Sarah Claire digs the cinnamon-sugar covered ones.
The poses? I have no idea.
Sarah Claire was quite sure she did not need help driving the horses.

So there's a snapshot or two from our world lately. Life has been remarkably and wonderfully normal, which suits us just fine. We had enough excitement this winter to last us a long, long time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sharing the Roads

And you think being stuck behind a school bus is bad! Imagine how these donkey-pulled fruit carts clog up traffic on our streets. (The two boys driving this couldn't have been much older than 10 or 11!)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bike Ride Part I

Well, I think we're officially raising City Slickers. When I was a kid, we had room in our yard to learn to ride a bicycle. And the streets were quiet enough that when I was 7 I rode my bike to school and to friends' houses with no supervision and no problems. But my kids live five floors off the ground, and the streets around here aren't all that quiet. But this weekend, we decided to do a little beginning bike riding anyway. We have two small bicycles, but they hadn't been used much lately. So I started by dusting them off and then took them to the bike shop to get the tires patched and inflated. Then we were ready. We got an early start that morning, so I was back home with the bikes ready to go before noon!
These little guys had a big time riding in circles around a flat spot in the desert. There was no traffic to contend with, so they just rode and rode.
The training wheels were great, as long as the ground was flat. But frequently, the training wheels would get propped up on rocks and the back wheel would be raised into the air and turn the whole thing into a stationary exercise bike.
Maybe if they practice in the garage a little first, we'll be able to get out on the streets pretty soon. Sarah Claire looks ready, doesn't she?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two Simple Errands

I left home about noon on Tuesday, 8 March, to go on a simple errand: just take four bags to the air freight area at the airport and have them sent to a nearby country. It sounded simple enough, right? Well it took about an hour and a half to get to the airport to start with. As I first arrived a young man asked if I was going to the cargo area and volunteered to ride with me. I wasn't sure at first if he was there to help me or if he just needed a ride to work. But he showed me where to go and arranged things for me. We spent about 2 hours weighing the bags, getting papers stamped and waiting around a lot, but we got it done. The bags were on their way, so I started home. That's when the fun started. Traffic had been pretty heavy all day but after 2 or 3 miles the highway just stopped. We -- we meaning me and 10000 other cars-- crept along for 45 minutes or so making almost no progress. Then cars from the other direction started waving and motioning for us all to turn and go somewhere else. Several even stopped their cars to explain what was ahead.

So I took the first exit to the right and made really good time for the first 5 minutes while in a tunnel. But when I came out of the tunnel, I found myself downtown and approaching a very famous square that you probably saw on TV in February. The major protests were over but there were still a few hundred camping out and waving banners. And selling t-shirts. Lots of t-shirts and bumper stickers and other revolution souvenirs. Traffic was understandably slow. When I finally got around the square I passed by the street to the American embassy. There were six big tanks guarding the entrance to that. I finally got out to the highway by the river and on home. Almost three hours after leaving the airport. I found out later that by turning I avoided a major riot that involved throwing rocks at passing cars.

Then last week I needed to renew my car registration. In the states it seems like we did this by mail. At worst it might take an hour at the courthouse. So I left about 10, dropped the kids off at school and headed out. It took about 2 hours to cover the 8 miles to the traffiic department. Then another 15 minutes to find the right building. But I got in and started the process, paying some fees and such on the third floor. The guy told me to go down to the second floor, so I asked him which window to go to. His reply was classic: "God only knows--ask them down there." When we got downstairs, I went to the first window on the right, and that guy looked at my papers. Then he looked at me and said, “Foreigners can’t do this in this building. You need to go to the new one by the river.” Great. I knew approximately where the new place was—it’s next to a mall I’ve been in. When I got to the road by the river, I was about a half-mile from the mall. But there were big tanks blocking that road because of some government buildings there. So I crossed the river on a bridge, went north a half mile and took the other bridge back over. Well, the exit I wanted was also blocked so I ended up several blocks away before another chance to turn. When I did turn and get headed in the right direction, I found my self stuck in very slow-moving traffic, not all that close to the river. I got to the area where the traffic office is at about 2:30. But they told us it closed at 2:00. So I decided I'd try again on Monday. The GPS on Sunday said we had travelled 6 hours and averaged 8 MPH. 11 MPH if it only counted the time we were moving. Wow. Over an hour was “sitting still in traffic.”

Monday morning, I left pretty early by our standards—7:30 a.m.! I thought I’d drive through the only McDonald’s drive through in town and grab some coffee and a McMuffin. They serve breakfast now, but they don’t start until 8:30!! So I stopped in a little grocery store and got some really bad muffins and a Coke. It only took an hour and a half to get there this time, and I found the place pretty easily. I got my papers turned in—after visiting several windows on two different floors—and the guy told me to have a seat, it would be ready in a few minutes. That was at about 10:30. At 11:30, he told me the computer system was “down,” and it might be a few more minutes.

At noon on Monday, he gave me his mobile number and told me to call him on Tuesday and see if it was working yet. Nice. So I headed back home, still with no new tags. I actually had to screw the old tags back on the car, since I had taken them off and turned them in already. On Tuesday, I called and indeed the system was back up. So I told him I’d see him Wednesday morning. By Wednesday the tanks were cleared from the highway I wanted, so I got there about 8:30. They “open” at 8:00, but at 8:30 only 2 of 12 windows were occupied. When my guy arrived, he gave me one of his little breakfast pizzas. That was nice. By 10:00 it was all finished and the shiny new tags were in place. I got home about 11, ready to start another adventure.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Back to Fagnoon

There are places in the world where it is still quite cold in March. This is not one of them. We are deep into spring weather and rapidly careening toward summer temps. But for now, while our days are still pretty and pleasant and not sweltering, we are trying hard to get in as much "outside time" as possible. So this weekend we took a little day trip.

There's a special place just across the river that our kids just love. The architecture was inspired by Dr. Seuss (at least that's how it looks to us), and it's a great outdoor place to get away from the big smoky city. Fagnoon is a non-word that's a combination of the Arabic words for Crazy and Art. They call it an "Art School," but it's like no school I ever attended, unless the playground could take the place of the classrooms. These big nets we're climbing on are made of strips of colorful cloth twisted together.
We don't have a backyard, so the kids love to run around in the grass and dirt. On previous trips out there, we've seen giant water-balloon fights and ridden camels.

When they fired up the grill you see here, we got inspired and came home and cooked out, too. After supper, we even roasted marshmallows over the charcoal fire. Of course, we were back on our 5th-story balcony instead of out in the wild, but roasted marshmallows are good in any setting. You can't really see them, but the kids are climbing on that huge mass of netting behind the grill.
Here's Sawyer posing like an iron statue. He may have learned this trick from his dad.
Sarah Claire couldn't get enough of climbing on the bridge.
In addition to all the climbing and running and yelling and playing, the kids do actually also do some art activities each time. A favorite is always making things from clay on the spinning wheels. I think it's a favorite because it involves getting muddy clay all over your hands. And arms. And clothes. And parents.

We didn't make Sarah Claire demonstrate her mad sculpting skills, but she did participate in lunch time with us.
And boy did she have fun with this swing!

Overall, it was great to be out in the farmland, breathing fresh air and playing in the dirt. We may have to try to get back out there again before it's too hot to want to do anything outdoors!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Arab-Scottish Yankees

We realized today that we have video footage of the bagpipe players we mentioned in yesterday's post. Now you can experience the irony with us. In the video, you'll hear the tail end of Amazing Grace, followed by a seamless transition into a rousing rendition of Yankee Doodle. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

We're Back!

For 27 days in January, we wrote new blog posts every single day. If the reader has seen any world news at all since then, he will understand why we were interrupted. We took a little break from blogging when the internet was turned off for a week. Then things got a little warm for foreigners here, so we took a little trip. Lets call it a Home-School-History-Class Field Trip, just for fun. The city in which we live has been a city for thousands of years. But it wasn't the only city back in those early days of citification. We visited some sites in a nearby country that have also been around a long, long time. Lee Anna has read a good bit about Ancient Rome in her first grade material, so she was pretty excited to see a real-live Roman city up close and personal. These Roman ruins were just a half-hour's drive from where we stayed. In the picture below, we're in a cool little amphitheater that probably seated 2500 or so. We're sitting there on 2000-year-old seats, watching a couple of Arab guys playing Scottish bagpipes. These Arab Scotsmen were playing some traditional Arab-Scottish tunes like "Amazing Grace" and "Yankee Doodle." No, we don't really understand all that, either, but it sounded pretty cool.
The hippodrome below was the home of Roman chariot races, back in the day. Lee Anna and Sawyer ran around it, but they didn't have chariots. So they got tired.
This is a big arch. I think I read that it was built to honor the Emporer Hadrean when he came for a visit. Wow.

The rest of the photos are from the citadel in the city. They've had some sort of fortress on this hill since before King David was a shepherd boy. Lee Anna and Sawyer loved climbing on the old rocks...
...but Little Sister was not to be outdone.
These are some really big columns. You can see a section of a column on the ground in the foreground of this picture. Lee Anna wanted to know why they don't just put them all back up! I'm not sure modern machinery is strong enough for that.
In the background of this picture one can see our "city of refuge." The buildings are almost all made of white stone, and it's built on a bunch of hills. It was a pretty place to hang out for a few weeks.
At the citadel, there's a small museum. In the small museum, we stumbled upon some parts of the the Dead Sea Scrolls! Lee Anna had read about them in her school books this past fall, and when she saw them she said, "They found those the year G.G. turned 2!" That was how her Mama had put into perspective how recently these old, old Scripture texts were discovered.
The twins sitting with the fingers of Hercules:
And this is our favorite. You'll have to click on the picture to see what's happening here. Go ahead, click on it, then come back. Okay, what you're seeing is Sarah Claire sitting on a bench, listening to some more Arab Scotsmen playing bagpipes. The rest of us walked to the other end of this big courtard, but SC just sat there and watched. We called to her repeatedly, but she didn't budge. We're 75 yards away, and she's just mesmerized. Maybe she was trying to figure out why these guys in a medieval Arab palace were playing American music on Scottish instruments.
Hopefully, current events will allow us to continue blogging again, though we probably won't make every day!